When he came to, he was staring at a beige ceiling. He frowned. That seemed wrong. He blinked. Still beige. Nothing wrong with his vision. That was reassuring. But he had no idea where in the hell he was. He sighed. He frowned again. Something not right about that sigh. He did it again. There was something in his throat. In his nose.
He reached an unsteady hand to his face and checked his nose. It seemed alright - wait. Something long and skinny was in his right nostril. It was taped to the side of his face. A tube. Somebody put a tube in his nose. Some asshole stuck a tube in his nose and shoved it down his throat.
He followed the tube with his fingers, not daring to take his eyes off the ceiling. He had a definite idea where he was, but he wasn't ready to face that. He could be wrong. It could be anywhere, really. He could be at home, with his mother -
He felt the bars on either side of him, felt the cool, cotton sheets underneath him, felt the strange, papery material that passed for clothing on his tiny body, and knew there was no denying it. He was in a hospital.
He sat up and looked around. The whole place was in shades of beige. Revolting. He saw a window to the left, the doorway to the hall on the right. A private room. Good. That meant he didn't have to listen to somebody rattle on endlessly about their rheumatism or something.
He wondered vaguely if there was a way to signal a nurse or something, to talk to somebody about going home. He searched around the bed, feeling around for a button or something. He found a number of controls, some for the bed, some for the television he hadn't even noticed in the corner, some for the machines on either side of him, but nothing that seemed to be a paging system. He found lots of cords, most of which were hooked up to machines that weren't running on him. He also found the nasal tube about thirty times, and in his frustration, finally just yanked the tape off his face. He yelped as the tape tore away the fine mustache on his upper lip. Then he grabbed the tube and pulled it hard.
It was longer than he expected, and the sudden movement in his throat made him gag. He yanked it out anyway, despite the choking and coughing up of strange fluid. He realized belatedly he'd just yanked a feeding tube out of his nose. The idea that someone would force-feed him in such a manner nauseated him, and what bit of solution that made it down his throat came back up, though slowly and with much laboring.
His weak coughing and spitting noises must have alerted an orderly out in the hall, because his head was suddenly held under someone's arm, while a big, clear tube was forced in his mouth. Steve panicked, but he heard a man's soothing baritone instruct him to relax, that everything was gonna be fine. Steve found himself relaxing, then tensed up again as the tube touched the back of his throat. He started to gag again.
He heard a noise not unlike that of a vacuum cleaner, and was shocked to realize that it was some kind of vacuum cleaner. He felt the tube sucking up the spit in his mouth, and when he thought he was going to throw up on general principle, the tube found its way down his throat. Without meaning to, he bit hard on the tube as he felt it move into places he hadn't known existed. His gut thrusted violently and tears rolled down his cheeks as he fought the unnatural object in his throat. He grabbed the sheets fiercely, nearly ripping them, trying to fight the convulsions that quaked his frail body. He hacked and grunted loudly as his angry belly spasmed uselessly.
The portable stomach pump was doing a far more effective job.
After a few minutes, the orderly removed the pump slowly, trying not to upset Steve's stomach anymore than it already had been. He wiped Steve's face with a towel that came out of nowhere, and gently pushed him back against the pillows. Then he reached behind Steve's head and pressed a button on the wall.
The orderly went to a set of cabinets between the bed and window and pulled out a set of sheets. He removed the soiled top sheet, then began rolling the bottom sheet underneath Steve. With a bit of maneuvering, the orderly remade the bed with Steve still in the bed. He fluffed the pillows and asked Mr. Morantes if he was comfortable.
Steve had to laugh. He was in a hospital, wearing an overrated apron, having ripped a tube out of his stomach through his nose, barfing his guts out, while some dude vacuumed up his insides. And this joker wants to know if he's comfy.
The orderly just waited for the hysteria to pass, then indicated the colored buttons on the wall. He explained that a doctor was on the way, and if he needed anything, to press one of the buttons. He explained which one would bring a doctor, nurse or orderly. Then he left the room.
Steve rubbed his empty belly absently, wondering why the orderly felt the need to explain all that. He was only there because he'd fainted. The doctor would see him, give him a clean bill of health, and let him go. No big deal.
A pretty black woman in a red sweater and black miniskirt came in the room. Steve started to tell her she had the wrong room when she marched to the cabinets by the window and fished out a clipboard and a stethoscope. She marched over to him, frowning and flipping through what Steve assumed to be his medical chart. When she got there, she looked at Steve as if she were about to say something profound, then paused.
Her frown deepened and she reached for something resting on the safety bars of the bed. The feeding tube. She picked it up and turned it over, as if she couldn't understand what it was doing there. Then she looked at Steve's face.
He was frowning just as hard, mentally daring her to try something. He folded his skeletal arms over his chest and squared his jaw. He sat up, ready to rumble.
She didn't pick a fight, however. She looked at the chart again, and verified his name and address. Then she introduced herself as his primary physician for his stay. She waited a beat, then told him he was severely dehydrated and malnourished, that his blood pressure was down and he was suffering from hypothermia. She asked him pointblank if he was on a diet. He didn't answer. She sighed, then told him she wasn't releasing him unless a family member came for him, and that did not include his partner pacing the halls.
Steve's eyebrows went up. Could she do that? Did she have the right? And who the hell is this 'partner' she's referring to? He remained silent, hoping she would further elaborate on this partner thing. Instead, she was calling a pair of nurses and asking for some IVs.
She started poking around on him, squeezing too hard, digging strong fingers into his tender flesh, making him jump and whimper. She frowned at every reaction, shaking her head. She stopped her examination when the two nurses arrived, two young orderlies with weird medical equipment in tow. The doctor asked the nurses to take over setting up the IVs and instructed the orderlies to come back with bed from the green room. The orderlies exchanged looks and craned their necks to see the patient before the doctor had to shoo them both out.
Steve asked what that meant. He didn't like the fact that he was being put in a special bed. He really didn't like the fact that the boys suddenly wanted to see what he looked like after the doctor made her request. He felt a little like a circus freak.
The doctor picked up the feeding tube again and pursed her lips. She moved the feeding apparatus out of the way of the nurses, and pulled a chair over to the bed. She arranged it so she could sit by Steve's head, and settled in it. She gently laid her hand on top of his, so lightly that it wouldn't have taken any effort to pull away if he wanted to. She addressed him by his first name, so softly he had to lean in to hear her.
She told him she wasn't a psychologist, so she couldn't just say what she assumed to be the root of his health problems, not without some expensive and time consuming tests. She wouldn't just bring a doctor from the psychiatric ward either, because it would do more harm than good at this point, whether her hunch was correct or not. She told him that even if she was right, she could only treat the symptoms, not the problem, that he would have to do all the work on that end. She told him this was only his first visit, but it might not be his last, that only he could determine that. Then she stood up and moved the chair away, looking toward the door.
The orderlies were back, with a bed that looked just like the one he was in. The orderlies positioned the bed in an empty space in the room, then came and started unplugging things by Steve's head. They moved his bed alongside the new bed. Then one boy stood at Steve's feet and took hold of his calves, while the other went to his head and grabbed his ribcage, underneath his shoulders. The boy at the foot of the bed nodded and they lifted him easily, transferring him to the new bed. They wheeled him back to his original position in the room as the nurses wheeled the first bed out to the hall. The nurses came back and helped the orderlies plug the stuff back in.
Then the fight started.
The doctor took Steve's ankles and held them. He thought that was weird, but he didn't resist. He started to worry when each orderly took a hand. He became more worried when each young man took hold of an elbow and held his stick-figure arms like a barbell. Worry became angry panic when each nurse stood in front of an orderly and pulled some heavy cloth wrist cuffs from the sides of the bed and fastened Steve's hands in them.
He tried to flail his arms, but the orderlies were strong and obviously well trained - they just rode it out, keeping the forearms steady enough for the nurses to finish their work. He tried to kick the doctor off instead, but she squeezed his meatless ankles, pinching nerves and sending shockwaves up his legs.
Rather than incapacitate him, however, the pain just pissed him off. He started to buck wildly, shaking his head and shrieking at his captors to get off. He managed to shake the doctor off, but the orderlies were already grabbing his legs roughly. They yanked and squeezed his rawboned legs so hard he started to cry. The nurses were no better, more concerned with speed than comfort. The doctor was in the background, shouting at the support staff to be gentle, be careful, but Steve didn't feel any difference. When his legs were bound the orderlies were strapping a giant belt to his torso, pinning him completely.
Still crying, Steve collapsed against the bed, utterly exhausted. His tears went unnoticed as the nurses grabbed bottles of weird brown stuff and rubbed it on the area just above his collarbone, the insides of his wrists, upper arms and his inner thighs. The orderlies whisked the tall poles with bags of strange, not-clear fluids nearer the bed, while the doctor was tearing strips of tape like the stuff that had been on his face. The nurses took ugly looking syringeless needles and stuck him where they'd rubbed the brown stuff. His crying escalated into straining, hysterical sobs when blood started to squirt through a couple of the needles, but the doctor was at his side, reassuring him he would be alright, he just needed to try to calm down. Then she barked at the nurse that put the needles in the wrong way, fixing them herself. The orderlies were attaching tubes to the properly inserted needles and checking the bags of fluid to be sure they were running into the needles properly. Then the support staff left, leaving the doctor to deal with her frightened, wailing patient.
The doctor stroked the top of his head, an obvious attempt to soothe Steve, but it just upset him more. Before long, he was hyperventilating, and a new set of nurses had to be called in with a respirator and a tranquilizer. As the tranquilizer took effect, the doctor teased him a little, joking that someone would think they were trying to kill him. He found himself smiling, though he wasn't so sure they weren't trying to kill him.
She took his smile as a good sign and asked if he would like a visitor yet. He recalled the 'partner' she'd referred to before and wondered if that was the visitor. Curiosity piqued, his nodded his assent. The doctor signaled to the nurse that wasn't setting up the respirator, and the nurse took off. Then the doctor turned to Steve and set down the rules for today's visit - don't try to talk to loud, don't fight the urge to sleep, and don't even think about asking to be untied. Then she smiled and left the respirator nurse to finish her task.
The woman was fitting a clear, plastic mask over Steve's nose and mouth when Adam came in the room. He rushed to Steve's side, then looked in horror at the bindings. The nurse finished up and hurried out of the room, giving the two men their privacy. Adam put his hand to Steve's face and tried very hard not to start bawling. Adam explained that they weren't allowing him to take him home without the consent of a blood relative, and that he didn't want to try to involve Steve's mother without his consent, so he might be stuck for a little while, but he wouldn't let them brainwash Steve if that wasn't what Steve wanted.
Steve was confused by Adam's choice of words. Why would they brainwash him? They would rehydrate him and stuff him full of vitamin infused chemicals then send him home. What was all the hubbub? And why did they think they had to tie him down? He only took the feeding tube out because it felt bad, and he knew they were going to pump some junk in his stomach. He didn't need this...
He started when Adam kissed his lips. It was a light brush, barely felt, but shocking all the same. But before he could react, Adam was already done, stroking a sunken cheek with the back of his hand. Steve started to ask if he knew why the doctor was calling him his 'partner', but he paused, looking at the funny look on Adam's face.
Adam was looking at Steve's arm. Steve always wore long sleeves, because it was too chilly to go without more often than not, so Adam had never seen the way the bones in his forearm separated so clearly under the skin. He'd never seen the way Steve's wrist seemed to push through the skin, or the way the veins stood out so clearly. Adam touched one arm gently, tracing a finger along a vein.
Steve looked at his arm and wondered what was wrong. He never really looked at it anymore, because he was so worried about his belly. Now, however, he could see movement under the skin when he opened and closed his fist. He could see the wasted muscle in his upper arm, the way it seemed to fall away from the bone. It was flabby.
It was too fat.
He worried about the way Adam looked at his arm, the way he lifted it to look at the flabbiness underneath. He knew Adam was disgusted by all the fat hanging off the arm, by the hugeness of it. He wished it would just go away, fade into nothingness.
He wished he was thinner.
Adam shook himself out of his reverie and smiled at Steve. He told him he had to leave, he needed to let the band know what was happening, try to figure out something about rehearsals and all. He said he'd be back everyday, not to worry about being alone. He said it was alright to call, day or night, if he needed to talk. Then he left Steve alone in a strange bed in a strange room.