Chapter 16 INSTANT REPLAY
After Marney’s dreadful date, I realized I hadn’t done what I said I was going to do. So, I set out to make it happen. I pulled out all the brochures I collected from the Health Expo and started to comb through them. So many therapies available for so many ailments. Water therapy, magnet therapy...I looked through them all until I finally found it. Doctor Wade Mackey, Virtual Reality Therapy.
I was going to call Doctor Wade Mackey and get Marney to go into his office for another virtual reality treatment. She had such a great experience last time and the doctor did say they were making some advancements in surgical procedures, too. My plan was fool proof. I just needed to get Fred to agree to it.
In the morning, before school, I put the brochure on Fred’s desk where he was sure to see it. I even put the business card and flier from the expo on his chair so when he sat down, he was certain not to miss it, even if he did switch on the TV.
Then I made breakfast. I boiled eggs. I burnt toast. I even poured all the orange juice into glasses and set the table. Fred came in and then Jane. They were shocked. Fred sat down at his chair, “Did you do this?”
I nodded with a smile.
He wiggled a little and pulled the flier out from his seat and set it on the table.
“Want some coffee?”
Jane sat down too, and broke into a soft hard boiled egg. The yellow oozed out all over her plate.
“Woops, sorry Jane, too soft.”
“That’s ok, I’ll just have it on the toast,” she said, as she took the charred bread, buttered it and wiped it into the yellowy mess like there was nothing wrong with it.
“This is really a nice surprise, Sam,” Fred said. “We should get Marney up.”
“No, no!” I shouted. “Not yet. Not until you’ve eaten and read the paper.” I gave him back the flier that he’d set aside and pointed to it. “Look at this, Fred. It looks good, doesn’t it?” I handed him the brochure. “And this.”
“What is it?” Jane asked.
“It’s this really cool helmet that you put on and you can fly. Marney tried it at the Health Expo and she could feel her legs!” I said enthusiastically.
But Fred was skeptical. I could hear it in his tone of voice. “It says here, it’s still in test phases, Samantha.”
“But, he said, we could call him and make an appointment. I just want her to have that feeling again.”
Marney rolled into the kitchen. Everyone went silent. “Okay, I know you’ve just been talking about me. Next time don’t make it so obvious. What have they been saying, Squirt?”
I grabbed the brochure and held it up for Marney to see. “Remember this guy?” I asked. “Remember that machine? How you were walking?”
Marney grabbed the brochure. “Yeah, so what? It’s just a game, it’s not real life,” Marney replied.
“If it feels real, it is real,” I said. “You felt something, Marney. I know it.”
“You should do it,” Jane said.
We all looked at her.
“I’ve always thought, this is so hard. Why me? But, it didn’t happen to me, Marney. It happened to my little girl and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t hear you crying at night and that you don’t miss your legs.”
“Mom, but the cost,” Marney said.
“I don’t care.” Jane hugged Marney. “Yes, we’ve got bills piling up. Yes, your father and I fight about it. But it’s not your fault. It’s no one’s fault and we can handle it. We always have and we always will.”
“It’s that girl from the other team’s fault!” I spoke up.
Marney stopped me. “It was an accident, that’s all.”
Fred smiled at Jane and then spoke up, “Your mom is right. After your accident, we should’ve kept looking. We gave up because we got overwhelmed and we thought you started to accept it and so we accepted it. But no, you don’t have to accept it, anymore.”
Fred got up and hugged Marney and Jane.
I couldn’t resist. I walked over and hugged them too. “Group hug,” I shouted. Everybody giggled.
Afterward, Fred called the doctor and set an appointment for Marney that week. She would do the virtual reality therapy again and then she’d be put through some tests to see if she was a candidate for a new surgery.
Everyone was so excited that no one could hardly do anything without thinking of Marney’s possible recovery. I think it got mentioned once in every conversation we had for the rest of the week.
Finally, it was time to go to the doctor’s office. Marney was really nervous. She wasn’t excited anymore and she even cried a little. “Dad, I can’t do this,” she claimed. “I’m not ready for another letdown.”
“Marney,” Fred said, “we’re all on your team here. No one is going to let you down. We’ll be by your side cheering you on. But, you need to do this. The doctor said you have a real shot at overcoming this thing and I believe him.”
We arrived at the doctor’s office early. Fred always liked to be early to inspect everything at every job, before and after. So, when we got to the doctor’s office Fred paced the office, measured it with his eyes, evaluated their molding and paint job and checked the desk with his level, which he always kept in his back pocket. The receptionist looked at him with a questioning glance.
“Sorry, force of habit. We’re the Fergusons. Marney has an appointment to see Dr. Mackey.”
The receptionist handed Fred some paperwork, “Fill this out and sign the bottom. The doctor is stuck in traffic and will be a little late. So, I’ll get you started as soon as you’re done with that.”
Fred filled out the paperwork, occasionally asking Marney a question about the extent of her lack of feeling in her legs. Marney was getting anxious. “I don’t feel anything, Dad. So, just put that.”
“Okay, Marney.” He wrote down what she said, signed the paperwork and gave it back to the receptionist.
The receptionist made a file for Marney and then said, “Marney, why don’t you come on back and I’ll get you set up.”
Jane butted in, “Are you a doctor?”
“I’m a Nurse Practitioner. The regular receptionist is out on maternity leave.”
“I see,” Jane replied.
“Can I come, Marney?” Marney looked at me and nodded.
Marney rolled herself into the back office where the nurse took her temperature, blood pressure and a blood sample off her finger. “Ouch!” Marney said, “You could’ve warned me that you were gonna do that.”
“I’ve been doing this job a long time and if I’d have warned you, it would’ve hurt more,” she replied.
I laughed because I thought it might be true.
“Okay,” the nurse said, “we’re done here. Now I’ll bring your parents in and show you all the machine and set you up with it.”
The nurse walked out and asked Jane and Fred to step inside. They walked down the hall to a great big room with a screen, a game module, and a helmet. It looked like we were inside a big spacey game room. There were a few of them set up. The difference between these machines and the one at the health expo was the great big screen.
“What’s the screen for?” I asked the nurse.
“It’s so that we can see what Marney sees.”
“Wow!” I replied.
“I’m going to hook you up, Marney. It’s going to be slightly different than the machine at the expo. That was our older model. We don’t allow the newer ones to leave the building. There are a few more bells and whistles to this one but with that, it means, there are more wires and hookups.” She pulled out a sticky circle with a wire on it and she gave it to Marney. “Put this right over your heart.”
Marney looked a little worried. “This isn’t gonna shock me or anything, is it?”
“No dear, no,” the nurse replied, “it’s just a monitor. We want to monitor your heart and breathing while you’re in the virtual reality treatment helmet.”
“Okay, I guess.” She stuck it under her shirt onto her chest. The nurse gave her another one for her lungs and told her where to put it. Then, she slid her wheelchair into a locking position with clamps on the floor. She gave Marney the helmet and Marney put it on.
The nurse picked up a microphone near one of the machines and switched it on. “Marney won’t be able to hear us except if we speak through this microphone.”
I ran up to the microphone, “Hi Marney,” I shouted.
Marney said, “Hi Squirt. I’m ok.”
The nurse looked at me sternly as if to say, I won’t allow you to do that again. So I smiled shyly and tried to manage a blush. She bought it and let her scowl go.
“Marney, did you have anything in mind that you would like to try?” the nurse talked into the microphone.
“What do you mean?” Marney asked.
“You can do anything in this. It’s like controlling your own dream. If you want to swim, you can swim or surf, ski, fly, play games. We can create it all.”
“Can you be in deep space?” I shouted.
“Yes, you can even be in deep space,” she replied.
“Basketball?” Marney asked from inside her virtual reality shell. “Can I play basketball?”
The nurse started pushing buttons on her console and replied, “Coming right up.”
The screen outside Marney’s head lit up with a thundering applause. There were screaming fans inside a great big arena with signs and banners and hot dog vendors, everything the mind could imagine. It was all there. And there was Marney. I couldn’t see her face. But, I could see her legs. It was like we were watching everything from her point of view.
The referee started the ball toss to see who gets it. Marney was so fast, she practically flew to get that ball. I glanced over at Marney in real life and I could see her chair moving slightly back and forth as she controlled the game on the screen and in her head.
The crowd went wild when Marney grabbed that ball. She ran down the court like it was nobody’s business and she slam-dunked that ball. The crowd went wild over and over again. With every shot, every block, every pass, I could hear Marney laugh. The crowds excited her and made her move even faster, go for even more shots. I looked over at Marney inside her helmet and I could tell she was getting tired. She was breathing hard and even though it was only a virtual game, she was really playing it.
When the doctor finally arrived and asked the nurse how long the machine was on, the nurse responded, “About thirty minutes.”
The doctor began to shut down the machine and as he did, he talked to Marney through the microphone, “Marney, I’m going to turn the machine off now. You need to come back to us.”
At that moment there was a whole lot of confusion, because Marney’s legs on the screen tumbled to the floor like spaghetti. Her virtual reality legs weren’t working. “There’s something wrong,” the doctor said. “That shouldn’t happen.”
“What do you mean, Doctor? What happened?” Fred asked.
“She shouldn’t have been allowed to be in there for longer than fifteen minutes. The longer she’s inside, the more wrapped up she is in that reality.” He continued to shut the game down until everything had powered off. But Marney wasn’t moving. Her body slumped in her chair.
Fred and Jane both gasped and ran toward Marney in the machine. The doctor removed the helmet and checked her vital signs. “She’s fine. She’s just in shock.”
“What do you mean, in shock?” Jane asked angrily.
“It’s almost as if she’s relived her accident,” the doctor replied.
“That can’t be good,” I said.
“No, quite the contrary. It can be good. Her vital signs are normal. Right now, she’s in a small state of sleep as her body and mind figure out what happened and adjust to what she remembers.”
“Will she be asleep long?” I asked.
“No, just another moment or two, I think,” the doctor said.
“You think?” Fred demanded. “Doctor, we knew this was experimental but, if your machine put our daughter into a coma-”
“I’m not in a coma,” Marney spoke up. “I’m okay,” she told him. “I feel very strange, though. A little light-headed.”
“That’s just the side effects of the machine wearing off, Marney, nothing to be worried about.”
I ran over to Marney, “Did you feel your legs again, Marney?”
She smiled at me and gave me a noogie, “Yeah, Squirt, I did. And it was really cool.”
I smiled back while rubbing my head.
“What do we do next?” Marney asked the doctor.