“I don’t know how to answer that.”
“So wasn’t helpful.” He frowned. “So what was? Seriously, Anne, how did you pull yourself back up to normal?”
His expression was so intense, she knew he was dead serious, and that earnest searching was a surprise that opened her up.
“It wasn’t the therapist at the hospital. Not that she wasn’t well intended . . . we just didn’t connect, I guess.” She focused on her prosthesis as it sat on her thigh, a sculpture of what had been lost. “They can be helpful, though.”
“You’re saying that because you don’t want me not to keep going.”
“So again, what was it for you?”
Anne turned the prosthesis over and looked at her “palm.” Then she pulled up the sleeve of her windbreaker and followed the carbon fiber length that plugged into what was left of her lower arm.
“I got an infection,” she heard herself say. “It was about a week after I got out of the hospital. I’ll never forget waking up in my bed and feeling this terrible fatigue, like I was coming down with the flu. The end of my stump didn’t hurt—well, that’s not true. I had phantom pain, and I assumed that any discomfort was all part of the damaged-nerve thing. So I just kept going, but then I popped a fever, and when they did a wound check, they found the beginnings of the infection. My skin was so red, it was like it was made of blood. Things went downhill fast. They took samples to target the antibiotic, put me on broad spectrums at first, then they ratcheted it up. It was a race and we did not win for a while. I developed these bright red lymphangitis streaks, and shortly after that, I went septic. I just crashed. That was when I was readmitted.”
She was aware she was giving him factual particulars instead of other things that were much more personal. It was like she was reporting the stats of a patient, and that distance was the only reason she could get through the story.
She’d never talked about it before.
Anne glanced out the front windshield. “It’s green.”
“The light is green. We can go.”
Danny seemed to shake himself. “Oh. Yeah.”
As he hit the gas, she wanted to stop talking—and told herself she didn’t because she wanted to help him. Inspire him. This was about proving to Danny there was another way.
It was not connecting with him on a personal level. Or sharing her story because it was something she probably needed to get off her chest.
“You must have been scared.”
“It was touch and go.” She told herself not to go too deep. “But your brain gets fuzzy so you can’t think clearly.”
“I didn’t know it got that bad.”
“I was very lucky. It wasn’t MRSA. The clindamycin IV saved me.” Her heart tripped and then pounded, as if the memories were an intruder trying to get back into her body. “Anyway, you wanted to know what turned me around.”
She fell silent as she tried to find the right words. Somehow, this felt more intimate than the sex they’d had. “So the night of the fire and the first day after, I was all ‘I’m going to beat this’ and ‘nothing is going to stop me.’ And I kept that up until I was released and I went home. Something about being around my things, my house, my routine made it real in a way that it hadn’t in the hospital. That was when . . .”
“When it hit you.”
“Yeah.” She refused to speak of the sleepless nights, the toxic depression, the distortion of her anger and fear. “I got into a tailspin—‘life is over,’ that kind of thing. But then I was back in the hospital and it was not at all apparent that I was going to make it.”
Anne glanced over at him. “When you were little, did you ever picture your funeral?”
“No. God, never.”
“Well, I did. Like out of A Christmas Story when Ralphie was blind? I’d pretend I was in my coffin and people were coming to pay last respects and weeping over the loss of me. It was usually in response to a punishment I thought was unfair.” She shrugged. “So there I was, an adult, on the verge of dying . . . and it actually happened. I stared up out of the death spiral I was in and saw all these faces looking down at me. Everyone so upset . . .”
An image of her mother, that hair all done, the makeup perfect, stung. Even when that woman’s daughter had been close to dying, she’d had to be sure to look presentable.