So far January has been uneventful. We have developed a good routine though. Sarah helps me work with my crutches every morning for an hour, then Nate takes over and does core exercises and weight training with Jake and I, and after lunch I am with Charlotte for the afternoon.
I can’t stand on my left leg without my brace locked, even when I am in the pool, so Charlotte decided it is best I keep my brace on while I focus on my balance. She also doesn’t want me walking with my crutches all the time because she says it discourages my natural walking posture and leaning over on my crutches when I walk hinders my progress of keeping my stance upright and balancing.
At first, I would get upset with her when she refused to let me use the crutches in the afternoon or even at night at her apartment, but when I pushed my stubborn pride aside and realized she would have to constantly hold onto me if I used my crutches, I decided it would be in my best interest follow her advice.
Charlotte mostly worked with me in the pool. She now had me wear my left leg brace and when we walked, I would stand straight up and we would face each other, she would walk backwards when I would take a step forward while gripping onto each other’s outstretched arms.
Walking this way was much easier with the surrounding water and my leg brace helping to keep me upright. When I felt my hips sway, I would grab onto her arms tighter and she would pull me back into the direction of my normal stance.
After the pool she would take me to the gym to work on standing. Keeping my left brace on, I would either practice standing with Charlotte facing me with my hands on her shoulders for support, or she would stand with her hands by my hips while I support myself on the parallel bars. And that is all she had me practice, standing on my own until my hips gave way, then do it all over again.
I made it through the entire month doing the same therapy each day and I wasn’t gaining any more control of my left leg or hip movement. My previous mood swings were coming back, and they also proved to be hard for me to control. Charlotte was also getting frequent headaches in the evenings which could only be from the same stress and frustration I was feeling.
“I spoke with Dr. Lee this morning and he thinks you should try another round of stem-cell treatments”, she informs me while we are practicing standing together in the gym.
“Oh? What do you think I should do?” I question her.
“Well, even though you nearly worried me to death the first time around, I think it’s your best chance of gaining more balance and strength”, she confidently tells me.
“Jake and his girlfriend are coming this time too, he is also going through with the treatment as well”, she surprises me.
She notices me half smiling, half in my thoughts with my head down. She places her hands on the side of my face and lifts my head to face hers and rubs her thumbs across my cheeks. Her expression is so calm, and her eyes are so hopeful for me.
“What do you think about this?” she cautiously asks me.
I grab the back of her neck with my right hand and pull her lips to mine before I tell her, “I will do it again if it will give me any chance of getting better, and only if Jake decides not to react like I did with high fevers and take all or your attention away from me”, I laugh with her.
“That is why his girlfriend is coming along”, she laughs again and then informs me that we are leaving tomorrow.
I am not as nervous for this trip to California; I know what to expect and I have Jake to share with in my humiliation as we are both practically strip searched at security. The horrified and embarrassing look on Jake’s girlfriends face makes be burst out laughing. I remember those looks on Charlotte’s face my first experience through security with a wheelchair, but now her and I joke about it.
“You are loving this right now aren’t you?”, Charlotte chuckles, pointing at Jake and his girlfriend.
“You know it!”, I gloat.
I’m used to this whole traveling with a wheelchair process now, but Jake isn’t, and I do my best to try and lighten his mood, remembering how I felt my first time taking a plane as a disabled person.
We arrive at the L.A. facility and I gladly take Jake and his girlfriend around on a tour while Charlotte heads to a few meetings with the staff.
“This place is amazing! It has everything!” Jake blurts out with excitement.
“I still like our place in Boston better, it is smaller and has more of a homelike feeling”, Jake says, and I agree with him.
Charlotte warned us we would be having our first procedures tonight and to meet her in the café for dinner. I don’t mind her going off all day to get her work done. Even though I’m the third wheel, Jake and his girlfriend keep me company while we wait to meet up with Charlotte again.
After dinner, Charlotte helps Jake and his girlfriend prepare for his procedure, then comes back to my room to help me. I have already changed into my hospital gown when she enters my room, so she smiles at me and joins me on the edge of the bed.
She starts rubbing her forehead, something she has been doing a lot of lately, and I voice my concern, “You have a headache again?”
“It’s from stress, I have had one all day”, she tells me.
I instantly put my head down and clasp my hands together, rolling one thumb over the other while I let my bad thoughts invade my mind. Am I the one causing all her stress? Am I too much work for her to handle anymore?
She catches me lost in my head and reaches for my hand.
“Levi, look at me, I know what you are thinking”, she says, holding my hand in hers. “You are not the cause of my stress; you are the reason I make it through each day… I just have so much other work to do between this place and in Boston…knowing I have you keeps me going”, she softly kisses my lips.
“I’ll admit that I am worried about your procedure tonight and any kind of reaction you might encounter”, she groans.
“I will be fine, I promise…knowing I have you is what keeps me going”, I smile at her, repeating her own words.
I remember waking up a few hours later in my bed, Charlotte next to me.
“Do I have a temp?”, I nervously ask her.
“Only a mild one, 99.9 degrees”, she smiles.
“How is Jake doing?” I ask her, I am worried for him too.
“He is doing great! No reaction so far”, she informs me.
“Good! Now promise me you will get some sleep and refrain from checking my temperature every thirty minutes”, I press her.
Charlotte was ecstatic in the morning when I woke up without a fever. I didn’t feel weak either like last time and that made me ecstatic too. She took Jake and I to the gym for our first therapy session and designated a different therapist for the rest of our sessions. Jake and I kept busy with our exercises while Charlotte kept busy with her other work. We all met up for dinner in the café that night. Jake’s girlfriend found us a table while we waited for Charlotte to show up.
“Surprise!”, I hear her familiar excited voice say from across the café. When I look up, I see her walking towards our table with Landon and Andy following closely behind.
“What are you lads doing here?”, I gasp in shock.
“We are here to cause some trouble mate!” Landon retorts.
Charlotte is beaming, obviously thrilled with my surprised reaction. I don’t understand how she can always find ways to astound me like this, what makes me so deserving of this brilliant woman, I constantly ask myself.
“I think these two will be a perfect comical distraction for you and Jake this week as you get through your treatments”, she laughs causing us all to laugh along with her.
“Thanks Love, you are amazing!” I remind her.
It was great having my friends here. Charlotte let us explore L.A. as long as we finished our therapy sessions. My mates kept Jake and I laughing all week, to the point of annoying our therapists at times which made it even more fun.
For some reason Charlotte stayed away from Andy when she could, but her and Landon got along fine. Sometimes I would disturb one of her and Landon’s serious conversations, and other times I would catch them in hysterics about something. It makes me happy knowing that we both have a mutual friend, it makes my relationship with Charlotte seem more real, outside of therapy.
I managed to sneak a few minutes alone with Landon before their flight back to London. Him and Charlotte have become close friends lately and I need his advice and his help with something I have been worried about.
Before I run out of time, or someone disrupts our conversation, I decide to just blurt out, “Hey Landon, I’m concerned about Charlotte and all these headaches she’s been having. She says they are from stress, but I can’t help thinking I’m causing her some of this stress. What should I do?” I plead.
“Listen Mate, that girl loves you unconditionally, whether these treatments work or not or whether you ever walk again or not, will not change the way she feels about you. She may worry about you because she loves you, but she is not stressed out because of you, trust me on this”, Landon asserts.
“How do I help her then?”
“Continue to treat her and love her the way she does you! People like her are hard to find, so don’t screw it up!”, he laughs and punches my shoulder.
“Good luck with the rest of your treatment and I will be back for another visit as soon as I can”, Landon slaps me on the back before leaving.
Jake and I survived our remaining stem-cell procedures without any adverse reactions. Charlotte decided to make dinner reservations for the four of us to celebrate, and because it just so happens to be Valentine’s Day.
“I’m sorry I don’t have a Valentine’s gift for you”, I say as we are getting ready for dinner.
“Levi, you pulling through these last two weeks without any reaction or infection is better than anything you could buy me for a gift”, she smiles before planting her sweet lips to mine.
The restaurant Charlotte picked was busy, but they were able to seat us right away because of our reservations. So far, we were all enjoying our double date. Jake and his girlfriend are good company, and we all have something to celebrate together tonight.
“Charlotte, what is wrong? Do you have another headache?” I lean over and whisper to her when I notice her squint at the menu then blink multiple times.
“No, the menu is a little blurry to me, maybe I need reading glasses or something”, she shrugs.
“I’m worried about you, at least go have your eyes checked”, I pressure her.
She places her hand on top of mine, attempting to ease my mind and says, “I promise I will make an appointment as soon as we get back to Boston”.