The doors to the rehab clinic swung open into an icy blast of air-conditioning. People mill around the clinic; some in scrubs, some in wheelchairs and the rest –more or less could be seen why they needed physical therapy. People in blue scrubs and white intern uniforms mill purposefully around the patients. In the office, they sat and linger, murmuring to each other. A burst of laughter would sometimes punctuate the humdrum of that afternoon.
A lone figure sat with her back to them. Rubber gloves squeaked as dutiful fingers tear and fold pieces of tissue rolls into threes. Why the hospital won’t simply order a box instead a roll was beyond anyone’s comprehension. But Faye welcomed the menial task to hopefully soothe her senses.
A disposable mask hangs around her neck. Fingers momentarily stop to adjust the ridiculously long sleeves that were carefully rolled up to her wrists.
Closing her eyes, her chest rose with a cleansing breathe before deflating away.
Human. A hint of cancer. TB. Hydrogen Peroxide.
Her brows furrowed. There were several shades of scent that she can’t identify yet.
Her head bowed as fingers flew to massage her temples. By now, she thought she’d get used to the smells. But no, it’s the same with the grinding, shifting background noise she’d been hearing all-
Fingers paused against her scalp. Only one person would call her by her given name.
She whirled around, already a withered look in her features.
The guy rushed at her and by the way he’s holding his hand made Faye scowl.
John skidded against the marble floor. “Oh c’mon.”
Her lips pressed together into a thin line. “I said no.”
“But I can get infected with this cut!”
“Put a band-aid over it.” She turned back to her roll of tissues. “Wear a surgical glove too.”
John watched her gloved hands fold and press more squares of tissues.
“You do know you’re too old to make puppy eyes, right?” she asked though she hadn’t glanced at him.
He immediately shook his head and Faye knew his face had turned into a frown with what he once defended was a manly pout.
“I was not,” he protested but Faye already grabbed his other hand and dragged him away.
“Does anyone know?” she asked. As soon as John got the message to follow her, she immediately let go of his hand.
“Ma’am Tina saw me-” his tongue froze at her scowl that she threw over her shoulder “-but I’ll wear a band aid over it, I swear!”
“You better,” she calmly said, opening the door to the hydrotherapy room.
John uncovered his hand and instantly cringed the moment she raised her voice.
“Where did you get that?!”
She put a hand over her mouth instantly and mumbled an apology. His shoulders shrugged as he flicked the bloodied cottonball away. “A cutter. Paperwork. A stubborn-ass folder.”
John could see her lower lip press up to its upper twin. She’s laughing. Probably from imagining how a fat folder could have an ass. Her eyes glanced to the closed door.
“You do realize Ma’am Tina will tell others you’ve cut your hand? Nobody will let you handle someone with AIDs.”
“But it hurts!”
Faye sighed. She was pretty sure any guy would just man up and wear a band-aid. Probably wear the scar proudly later like an interesting conversation piece.
John watched as she took off her latex gloves. Her hands hovered a moment over his cut.
The wound was a 2-inch red, moist cut peeked from the gaping flesh; the skin surrounding it was puffy pink.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. The instant the tip of her finger touched his skin, she was plunged into a world she knew.
The first thing she felt was the sensation of falling fast. Before she could think of slamming down the ground, she slipped through the earthy layers of epidermis and past tombs that ceaselessly split.
Through the basement layer, a city bustles madly with unending energy
More and more flash through her eyes –everything happening at once, everything a cacophony of another existence as she struggled not to be overwhelmed, frying her mind –
Faye took a deep breath and focused everything to slowed down.
The world then pulsed in a pace that she could comprehend. A network of vessels rose from the fatty floor to spread its net of capillaries to a fibrous forest and fluid. Floppy RBCs fold and push through the net and poured forth to structures suspended by braided beams of collagens expanding in all possible directions. Follicles. Corpuscles. Glands. Nerves as thin as electric wires wrap around them -sparks of light going through them like beads on a string.
Then the cut. What used to be a slit was now a great divide that had cracked through the epidermis and slashed through the mesh underneath. It had reached the bed of vessels above the fatty layer. A clot has already formed with webs of fibrin trapping the RBCs in it.
She ignored the ache building inside her temples.
Re-epitheliazation of the epidermis is already underway. Ruptured capillaries are already plugged with sticky platelets but intact ones are dilated to let in more dog-like neutrophils as they engulf the dirt and debri. Naked free nerve ends tingle from the chemicals released by the damage, they seem like they’re crying.
There was little time to fully connect what she read and what she could see.
Her eyes focused on the little bags of peroxisomes in the clotted RBCS. She took a deep breath. As she did, they began to burst. The clot begins to shrivel into a scab, making her feel worn but her eyes were already focusing on others.
She felt herself exhale, widening the gaps between endothelial cells and urged the macrophages, large amoeboid beings, to enter the site. The scab shrinks to itself and her gaze intensifies on the fibrocytes, coaxing them to speed up their weaving.
Her energy ebbed at her efforts. Stubbornly, she held on, her gaze went to the little pipes around her.
In what the body would take hours to do, arterioles branched closer to the wound, giving it more blood, more oxygen. In school, they called it angiogenesis.
She felt herself drain, giving away and she gasped as though to suck in some strength to continue.
Her thoughts focused to the epidermal cells. They divide faster and faster until she could see the scab detaches off as a crusty dead cover and-
Felicity gasped, her eyes flying open. She tore her hands off his and her shoulders hunched from the effort. She distantly took note of the rise and fall of her chest –as though she just ran in through the morning rush…
Her lips thinned into a grimace. With a headache.
She looked up to see John marveling at the pink-tinged skin where a fresh cut used to be. Faye instantly straightened before John would hover over her like a mother hen, bullying her knees to not tremble.
“Don’t worry, I’ll got a band-aid,” he continued as she took a deep breath and slipped back her surgical gloves. He opened the door and peeked through it. “In fact, I-”
Someone clamped over his healed hand and John turned around to meet two windows of obsidian intensity.
He already knew what her eyes were telling her long before she spoke.
“Don’t. Tell. Anyone.”
John could only nod when the latex gloves squeaked as her hands gripped his firmer. What intensity he witnessed in her eyes turned softer, more vulnerable.“Please.”