Friday, September 11, 2015

Gratitude (24 JUL 2016)

Constance woke slowly, as though rising from the lightless deeps of the ocean. The first thing she consciously noticed was how bright it was through her closed eyelids, and even through the fogginess of the drugs they were pumping into her system, she ached. The second thing she was conscious of was of the fingers wrapped loosely around her left hand. Groggily she pondered this, considered opening her eyes to see whose hand it was, but in the end it was too much trouble, and she slipped down once more into the darkness. 

When she woke again later, the light seemed less intense, and her eyelids flickered open. It took several long seconds for her eyes to focus on the sterile ceiling above her, though the steady beeping from somewhere nearby still seemed to echo weirdly through the haze of anesthetics. After several more moments, Constance remembered how to move, and she gently squeezed the fingers that still grasped hers, before turning her head to look at the owner. 

She was unsurprised to see Oskar's bed pushed close, his hand stretched out to grasp hers. He was asleep, his face relaxed artlessly, and his whole torso still swathed in a mass of bandages from his injuries of a month ago. She smiled gently, though even that bit of movement set off twinges; How long had she been out? For everything to feel this stiff, it was probably several days at least. She heard a quiet shuffle, and turned her head the other way to see a medic approaching her. 

"Sergeant 1st Class Makhandule," said the medical officer as he approached. "You're finally awake." His address caused her to lift an eyebrow; She must have been promoted while she was under sedation. "How do you feel?" Constance considered the question before answering, idly noting the name tag that read "Medical Officer 3rd Class Lentz" on his chest. 

"Sore, stiff," she replied after a minute. "Alive." It was the medic's turn to raise an eyebrow at her reply, and she smiled. She was alive. That was what counted. In the end, that was almost the only thing that mattered. "What happened? My memories are hazy right now."

"Well, the laser went straight through your chest, burned through a lung; Luckily it cauterized the wound, or you probably wouldn't have made it," his smile faded as he described her injuries. "It was touch and go, but we've managed to patch the lung as best as we're able; The rest will be on your body's ability to recuperate." He paused and looked at the chart that he'd picked up from the foot of her bed. "The flak from the rocket explosion was more problematic. It opened an artery on your cheek, and completely tore up your chest and abdomen. The blood loss, aggravated by your continued activity, was extreme, and there will be extensive scarring." Medical Officer Lentz's face was grave as he delivered the news, and Constance winced at the matter-of-fact description of the damage.

"Thank you," she said, and once again his eyes widened in surprise. 

"Thank you?" he repeated uncertainly. "Why are you thanking me?" 

"Thank you for being honest with me," she answered. "Thank you, and the rest of the medical staff, for my life." 

"I expected you to be considerably more upset by the news," he admitted frankly. "Most troopers aren't happy to hear that they will carry extensive scarring for the rest of their lives, especially on their faces." 

"I'm not happy either," she replied with that same serenity. "But what will getting angry do about it? Will it heal the scars? Will it bring back my lung capacity?" She shook her head, and smiled again, realizing now why it hurt to do so. 

"Well, it might help with the lung capacity," he said with a fleeting smile, "though I'd refrain from yelling at medical staff until the mesh is fully healed." He shook his head, and returned the clipboard to its hook on the foot of her bed. "That's a surprisingly healthy outlook."

"When you have seen what I have seen," Constance explained, "you have a few choices before you. You can let it break you, you can let anger define you, or you can accept that there is evil in the world, strive to change what you can change, and be grateful for the good things that come your way." She paused to formulate her thoughts before continuing. "Today, I am alive. There are others who cannot say so. So I am grateful for what I have."

Before the medic could respond, the fingers wrapped loosely around hers twitched, and she heard Oskar stirring. She gave the medic a brief smile before turning to watch Oskar as he woke. His eyes opened, and she saw the startlingly blue-green eyes focus on her face, and he smiled sleepily. He was pale after a month in medbay, but all in all, he was looking good. Medics said he had another month at least, but she had a feeling he'd be up and about before they knew it. 

"Connie," he said, his voice scratchy from his slumber. She wrinkled her nose, bringing another twinge of pain, then smiled. She hated the nickname really, but from Oskar, it wasn't so bad. He laced his fingers within hers, and scanned her face intently. She could see the small winces as he took in the bandaging on her cheek, and as his eyes trailed down her neck to the full cast that encased her chest, but he said nothing else for a moment. 

"Did you sleep well?" she asked quietly. 

"Nein," he replied. "Not really. Couldn't, until I knew you were okay." they laid quietly, their hands intertwined, for several minutes, with just the quiet hum of the machinery and the beeping of the monitors. Oskar finally broke the silence. "I thought I might lose you, when they brought you in. You... flatlined three times."

"It seems the medical staff earned their pay," she murmured back, gripping his hand tightly. "I'm still here." Bits and pieces of the mission were coming back; It had gone well, all things considered, but she knew she'd be out of action for a while. The very real concern she saw in Oskar's eyes told her just how close permanent retirement had been. "Besides," she continued, smiling though it ached, "I had to make it back. I couldn't let you have all the fun."