Kyle and I were attending a Black Lives Matter protest at Union Square with our best friends, Asher and Seth. Also, with us were our good friends, Clarke and Carl, and Clarke’s brother, Joseph, who was a law student at Columbia. Our friend Josh as well as his sisters and friends Larry and Dave were also with our group, as well as Dave’s uncles, but we got separated during the protest and for much of the evening, it had been just Kyle and me, with Clarke, Carl and Joseph. We’d all been having a great time meeting with like-minded kids and enjoying the entertainment, food and talks being given in support for ending police brutality, when Joseph got a text from Seth, telling us it was time to meet up and go home. Seeing that it was actually getting quite dark out, I realized that it was later than we thought.
Seth texted that we should all meet up at the Union Square east-bound bus stop on Fourteenth Street, and so we tried to make our way there, but that proved to be impossible. There were just too many people and with Fourteenth Street now full of people, there was no way the buses could get to the bus stop in any case. Then Joseph got a text from Seth to meet up at Cooper Union, nearby at Astor Place. Cooper Union was a small college with a sizable courtyard, so it was an ideal place for us to meet and we started to make our way there. It would be a simple matter to catch the subway or a bus from there, or we could even walk back to Seth and Asher’s place.
However, when we got to Broadway, we found our way blocked by a line of police in riot gear. There was no way we could get to Cooper Union by walking down Broadway, so we attempted to make our way down Fourteenth Street to Fourth Avenue instead. The crowd kept getting thicker and thicker and by the time we made it to Fourth Avenue, there were police in riot gear blocking the way and someone was yelling through a megaphone, “Keep moving and go home. If you don’t leave, you will be arrested.” That was well and good, but we had friends waiting for us at Cooper Union and so we attempted to make our way around the police and down Fourth Avenue, nevertheless. In retrospect we could’ve detoured all the way over to Third Avenue and then to Aster Place from there, which would have brought us right to Cooper Union. Perhaps that’s what Joseph, Clarke and Carl tried to do, ’cause we somehow got separated from them, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. As it turned out, Asher and Seth were dealing with their own problems with the police and attempting to meet up with them was an exercise in futility. Josh and his group figured that out very quickly and continued walking east on Fourteenth Street to Third Avenue, at which point they caught a bus home. Kyle and I were too stubborn, and we insisted on trying to meet up with our friends. The NYPD had other plans.
I’ll never forget what happened next as long as I live. Police in riot gear stood firm across the width of Fourth Avenue, so we attempted to go around them, to the right. The police tried to close ranks and block our route.
Kyle, always the aggressive one, shouted, “Out of the way, you fuckin’ asshole. We need to meet up with our friends!” I didn’t know where Kyle got the kind of moxie needed to spar with a police officer. Perhaps he merely surprised the officer, who wasn’t expecting such language from someone so young.
The officer’s reaction, however, would have been an overreaction to being confronted by a violent adult, let alone an angry kid. Perhaps the officer thought Kyle was older, as he was unusually tall for an eleven-year-old and except for his youthful face, could have easily passed for a young teen. The officer brought his baton down forcefully to Kyle’s left shoulder, most likely trying to immobilize his outstretched arm, but Kyle was shoved sideways by the crowd around us and the baton hit the side of Kyle’s head instead, striking him with far more force than a child’s skull could tolerate. Kyle went down like a sack of potatoes. I’d heard that expression before, and now I knew exactly what it meant.
Like a madman, I screamed right at the police officer who’d struck Kyle. I wasn’t sure what I expected as I was panicking and desperately wanted to help my boyfriend, but the officer undoubtedly only saw a crazed teenager and he hit me with his baton as well, but on the top of my head. Even though I was dazed, I didn’t go down.
Seeing that Kyle wasn’t moving at all, and unable to see if he was even breathing, I jumped to the worst possible conclusion and started shouting at the police officer, over and over, “You killed him! You killed him! He’s not breathing. You killed my boyfriend.” Unknown to me at the time, a couple of protesters captured the entire encounter on their phones.
Unfortunately, the baton-wielding actions of the one police officer touched off a storm of anger from the other protesters nearby and the other police reacted to the advancing crowd by beating them with their batons as well. Fearing that Kyle would be trampled by the police and the advancing protesters, I dragged him behind the police line, where additional police were standing by. I wasn’t sure how anyone could’ve heard me over the screams of the protesters, but one of the officers saw just how badly Kyle was injured and spoke into his radio.
I was surprised at how quickly the paramedics came, backboard in hand. They wasted no time in checking his carotid artery for a pulse and then gingerly loaded him onto the backboard and lifted him off the pavement, leaving his backpack behind for me to grab. I followed them as they carried Kyle away. Only then did I notice that Joseph, Clarke and Carl were no longer with us. They were nowhere in sight.
The paramedics didn’t waste any time as they carried Kyle away and loaded him onto a gurney, and then slid him into a waiting ambulance. Turning to me, one of the paramedics asked, “Is there an adult with you boys?”
“There was, but I don’t see him now,” I answered. “Listen, I’m his boyfriend and I have his health insurance card and all his health information.”
“Maybe you’d better ride with us,” the paramedic suggested. I got into the waiting ambulance and sat by Kyle’s side, opposite the paramedic. The driver shut the doors behind us and we were on our way. I knew how cautious ambulance drivers tended to be on the streets of New York, sirens blaring but driving slowly so as not to strike a pedestrian. Today, the driver was anything but cautious as the buildings seemed to race by us. Before long, I noticed that we were heading northbound on FDR Drive.
“You have his health information?” the paramedic asked. Reaching into Kyle’s backpack, I pulled out his wallet, found his health insurance card and handed it to the man.
Looking at Kyle’s information, the paramedic responded, “Oh gees, he’s only eleven?”
“And I’m thirteen,” I replied, “and we’re both seniors at Stuyvesant. We’ve been together for eighteen months now.” I’d expected that we were going to NYU, which was the closest Level One trauma center to the protest, but when we just whizzed right by there, I asked, “Where are we going? I thought that NYU had taken over the role of trauma center, now that Belleview’s admitting only Covid-19 patients.”
Shaking his head, the paramedic answered, “They only see adult trauma. In a pinch they’ll take a teenager, but there’s too much room for error when people who aren’t used to the proper protocols take care of children. The only Level One trauma center for children in the entire city is Morgan Stanley, which is New York Presbyterian’s Children’s Hospital. We should be there in about ten minutes.”
“Our dads work at Presbyterian,” I replied. “Well they’re Kyle’s dads, but my own dad passed away recently.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the paramedic responded.
“I’m not,” I replied. “Well a part of me is, but my dad cared more about money than about his children.”
“What a shame,” the paramedic commented. “So Kyle’s fathers work at Presbyterian?”
“Yeah,” I responded, “His biologic father’s a retina specialist in the Department of Ophthalmology, and his step-father’s an epileptologist in Pediatric Neurology at Morgan Stanley.”
“Really,” the paramedic exclaimed. “Perhaps you’d like to text them to let them know what’s happened.”
“Oh, fuck yes,” I replied as I got out my phone. Quickly, I group texted both of them, ‘Kyle hit in head by police baton. Probable epidural. Will arrive at Morgan Stanley in about 5min.’
As I was texting, I heard the paramedic call in an update on Kyle’s condition. “Pulse is thready but steady at about 120. Respirations are 32 and shallow. BP is 70 over 30. Pulse-ox is 98%. Pupils are unequal by two millimeters.”
“He has an epidural hematoma, doesn’t he?” I asked, just after sending the text to Kyle’s dads.
“More than likely,” the paramedic answered. “The neurosurgical trauma team’s been called and the OR is being made ready. He’ll likely go right to surgery.”
“The blow was to the left side of the head,” I related. “The good news, what little there is, is that like me, he’s left-handed, but even lefties are usually still left-hemisphere dominant. He might still sustain damage to his speech centers.”
“There’s no use in worrying about what might be,” the paramedic replied. “It all depends on how quickly they can relieve the pressure, and the response time doesn’t get much quicker than this. Time is on his side.” I could only hope he was right.
Both dads were there, waiting for us when the ambulance arrived. The stricken look on Jake’s face when he saw his son was one I’d never forget, but it was Ken who noticed that Kyle wasn’t the only one who was injured.
“Freck,” he began. “You have a huge lump on the top of your head! What happened to you?”
Frankly, I’d been so focused on Kyle that I completely forgot about my own brush with the end of a baton. When I told him what had happened, however, his response was, “Hell, Freck, you need to be examined too.” I was just about to object when I realized just how dizzy I was, and how unsteady I was on my feet. Turning to Jake, Ken said, “You worry about Kyle, and I’ll see to this one.”
Before I could even respond that I wanted to stay with Kyle, which of course was impossible, Ken had led me away to admitting, so I could undergo my own triage.
While my baby was in surgery, literally fighting for his life, I went through an interminable series of tests and scans, none of which showed anything more serious than a severe bruise of the scalp. However, there was some minor cerebral edema on MRI, and because I was still unsteady, they decided to admit me for so-called observation. It just seemed to me there was nothing to observe. I had a concussion, and not a very serious one at that.
They put me up in one of the VIP suites, which was almost like an apartment with room for my dads to stay with me. Literally, it was a hybrid of a conventional hospital room and a hotel suite, complete with a kitchen and a real bathroom with a shower. I hadn’t known such a thing even existed and could only imagine what it might have cost if we’d had to pay for it privately.
I was told we were given it at no extra charge because my dads were on the university faculty, but by the second time the hospital CEO showed up to see how I was doing, it was clear that we were given the room because of who I was, rather than because of the dads. The CEO clearly hoped I’d donate some of my father’s billions to the Columbia-Cornell hospital system. Hell, they could have those billions. Just give me my Kyle back, fully healed.
My dads had to split their time between Kyle and me, and their patients. Because of the pandemic, there was a significant backlog of patients that needed to be seen by them and so once Kyle was stable, they had little choice but to go back to work. Although they spent their nights staying with me in the suite, Kyle was in much worse shape than I was and so I was on my own for most of the time. The dads told me very little about Kyle’s progress, other than that he was still in the neurosurgery intensive care unit. My fear got the better of me and I convinced myself he was in an irreversible coma and would never wake up.
With far too much time on my hands, I spent much of it watching TV and on the Internet. I had Roger bring me my laptop, which was way better than watching stuff on my phone. I watched way too much CNN and MSNBC, and when I wanted a laugh, Fox News. The news was no laughing matter, however, as the Black Lives Matter protests continued to grow and spread across America at the same time that the pandemic predictably roared to life in the South and West.
The protests continued to grow and in a ridiculous show of force, the President used the military to clear Lafayette Park in front of the White House, so he could stand in front of a church with an upside-down Bible, for a photo-op of all things. His message was downright terrifying. He’d restore law and order at all costs, the Constitution be dammed.
The mayor of D.C. fought back by renaming the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House Black Lives Matter Plaza. How apropos. She even had ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted on the pavement in big bold yellow letters. There was no way the president could miss seeing that.
I spent a fair amount of time FaceTiming and Zooming with my friends. I heard for the first time about how Asher and Seth had been arrested, and how we all had inadvertently headed into a melee of angry protesters that were streaming north from Brooklyn. We couldn’t have gotten through to Asher and Seth’s place that way, no matter what. In retrospect, we all shoulda just done what the police told us to do and regrouped later, once we were well out of the crowd. Kyle would have been okay if we’d done that, and it wasn’t like we didn’t know our way around Manhattan.
The one bright spot was that Seth’s father was exonerated in his Federal court hearing. He was cleared of all charges. The only drawback was that the New York primary was the following week and there were three people running against him for the party nomination. He hadn’t withdrawn from the race, but there wasn’t really any time to campaign, hence it came as no surprise when he lost to an Asian American woman with deep roots in Chinatown. Frank Moore would finish out his term, then kick off his campaign for Governor. In the meantime, he had a book to write.
I’d expected to be in the hospital no more than overnight or maybe two days at most, but my doctors kept me much longer than that, supposedly to make sure there was no lasting damage from the concussion. With Kyle still not recovered from his surgery, I was in no hurry to leave and face the reality of a life without Kyle. Maybe that was the real reason they were keeping me in the first place – because my dads were concerned that I’d have a relapse and try to kill myself.
My dads had me speak with a lawyer and for the first time, I got a look at the attack on Kyle as caught on video by a couple of bystanders. Apparently, we were planning to sue the NYPD. To be honest, had Kyle been an adult, although the actions of the police were excessive, I wasn’t sure the response by the officer wouldn’t have been appropriate. The police were permitted to use force up to and including lethal force in response to a direct threat to their own lives.
However, Kyle was an eleven-year-old boy with a brain and skull that were still maturing. Although Kyle’s posture was confrontational, there was no way the officer should’ve reacted with violence to the actions of a little kid. Thus, I had very mixed feelings about our intent to sue the NYPD.
In addition to the attack on Kyle, there was an unprovoked attack by police in riot gear on an older man in Buffalo, which also resulted in a serious head injury. Looting or not, the police were outta control.
Weeks passed and Kyle remained in Intensive Care. I was told there’d been little change in his condition and although no one would speak to me about it, I knew that the longer this went on, the less likely it was that Kyle would ever recover. With each passing day, the likelihood that he’d have residual brain damage was increasing exponentially. No matter what, I’d still love him, but what if he remained in a persistent vegetative state? What if he didn’t even recognize me? What if he was dead and they were just afraid to tell me? Could I even begin to deal with that?
Flipping on the TV and turning once again to CNN, the President was continuing to downplay the pandemic, even as new cases exploded across the South. He tried to claim the surge in cases was because we were doing more testing, even as the test positivity rate was shooting through the roof. The idiot in chief had about as much understanding of how science works as a gnat. In the meantime, he held a campaign rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth, of all times, followed by one in a mega church in Phoenix, both without regard to the use of masks or social distancing. The one in Tulsa was especially egregious, given the white racist riot that occurred there nearly a century ago. The one saving grace was that the rally in Tulsa only garnered a little over six thousand participants and not the million he’d been expecting.
At the rally in Phoenix, some three thousand kids gathered in a megachurch to hear the President spout words of hatred in what was supposed to be a house of God. The crowd even applauded when the President referred to Covid-19 as the ‘Kung Flu’, as if the Chinese were responsible for what was clearly now an American pandemic. A lot of people believed the President when he claimed the virus was under control, harmless and that it would just go away, but my own father died from it. My friend Josh’s mother treated hundreds of critically ill patients with it and she nearly died from it herself. His old boyfriend got a Kawasaki-like syndrome called MISC from it – something that was rare as fuck before the virus came along.
And the Black Lives Matter protests were still going strong.
Although the restrictions on public activities were slowly being eased in New York, I still wasn’t allowed any visitors due to the risk associated with the coronavirus in hospital settings. I’d tested negative for Covid-19, twice, and my doctors wanted to keep it that way. Switching channels, I mindlessly watched Fox News, more for the entertainment value than for any actual news, when there was a knock on the door and a smartly dressed African American woman walked in. As with everyone who entered besides my dads, she was wearing a mask, but her outfit didn’t fit with that of the typical hospital employee. However, there was a lanyard around her neck with a hospital ID. As so often happens, it was flipped around, so I couldn’t see what was on it.
Looking back at the TV, she turned to face me and said, “Funny, but I didn’t take you as a Fox News enthusiast.”
“Occasionally, I watch if for a good laugh… or to cry,” I responded. Chuckling, I added, “I don’t suppose you see many people watching Fox around here.
Laughing, she smiled at me and began, “Freck, I’m Dr. Angela Larson, and I’m with the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychology… and you’ be surprised. I once walked into a room when the President was holding a news conference to announce his candidacy. The patient’s father was in the room and he said, and I quote, ‘Ah, a breath of fresh air. Finally, we’ll be rid of that abomination in the White House.’
“We’re supposed to remain neutral at all times, but after a comment like that, I couldn’t help but ask, ‘Would you prefer to have a doctor who isn’t an abomination?’” I couldn’t help but laugh wholeheartedly at that.
She continued, “Of course the man vehemently denied that he was calling Obama an abomination because of his skin color, claiming it had to do with his politics. Well, I couldn’t exactly let that go, so I asked him what it was about Obama’s politics that he thought was an abomination. Was it the way he saved the economy, or the way he extended healthcare to millions of Americans? He responded that the government had no business telling people they had to buy insurance they didn’t need. How ironic it was that his son was hospitalized for a brain injury after falling off his skateboard, and that he only had insurance because of Obama’s Medicaid expansion.”
“It’s amazing the machinations people will go through to prove they’re not racist,” I responded with a laugh, and then I added, “So, you’re my shrink. I was wondering when they’d send someone to see me.”
“I understand you’re seeing a counselor on the outside,” she continued.
“I was, until the virus hit,” I answered. “We tried conferencing via Zoom, but it wasn’t the same. I guess it’s mostly my fault, but it’s been more than a couple of months since we last spoke.”
“So I’ve been told,” she replied, and please call me Angie.” I’d always found it rather presumptuous of shrinks to ask their patients to call them by their first names. Just because she was being paid to talk to me didn’t make her my friend. However, calling her ‘Dr. Larson’, would have erected a barrier between us, and that wouldn’t have been productive either. For better or worse, I’d call her Angie and so I nodded my head at her.
“You’ve been through some rough times lately,” she suggested. “Your father passed away recently and now this… It would be a lot to deal with for an adult, let alone a young teenager.” I had to interrupt this – she was way off-base with me.
“Look… Angie, I know you think you know what’s going on in my life,” I interrupted. “Trust me, you don’t. I know I’m still a kid and I know that just because I have the knowledge of an adult, I still have to acquire maturity. As my boyfriend’s brother likes to say, we have the knowledge of people twice our age, but the maturity of kids half our age. I get that.
“I could read before I was potty trained,” I continued. “I could speak more than a dozen languages before I was ten. I can’t even remember a time when I couldn’t solve a math equation or a trig problem in my head. To me, that’s all normal.
“That said, I was never close with my parents and now that he’s gone, I can’t say I miss my dad. At least my mom has started acting more like a real mother to me since she had her own near-death experience, but I’m still gonna be cautious when it comes to accepting her love. She turned her back on me before and I don’t know if I could take it if she did that again.
“No, my biologic parents treated me like a trophy and once my sisters came along, my nanny focused her attention on them, so I was pretty much left on my own. Without any love, I sought other outlets for my emotions and by the time I was ten, I was a regular pot smoker. I drank too.”
“How did the marijuana and alcohol make you feel?” she asked. She was trying to analyze me already.
“Alcohol was a depressant that did little to take the edge off, so I used it only when the pot wasn’t enough,” I answered. “The pot made me emotionally numb. It didn’t make me feel good, but it kept me from feeling bad. I didn’t feel much of anything when I used it, which was an improvement over the shitty way I felt otherwise.”
“But in spite of that, you tried to kill yourself when you were eleven,” she countered.
“No, that’s not what happened,” I replied. “As I’m sure you know, pot makes you feel apathetic. It doesn’t keep you from feeling depressed… it just makes it so you don’t care. It was the Fourth of July and people were setting off illegal fireworks, and there were seagulls flying overhead, and I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be magnificent if I could fly too?’. I knew I’d probably fall and die trying, but I just didn’t fucking care. I’d fly away or my life would end and, either way, I’d come out ahead.”
“Does using swear words help make you feel better… more mature?” she asked. How silly.
“Actually, it’s a bad habit I picked up from my boyfriend,” I replied. “I never used to use words like that around adults. Kyle seems to think that by using the ‘F’ word, it makes him sound more like a brash New Yorker… more like an adult. My friend Asher’s mother pointed out, though, that swear words lose their impact when they’re used in everyday speech, and she’s absolutely right. It’s just hard to change when your boyfriend uses them all the time.”
Sitting up in bed and dangling my feet over the edge, I looked right at her and asked, “Please tell me the truth. I can’t seem to get much information from anyone else, not even from Kyle’s dads, but is Kyle even alive?”
“Of course he’s alive, Freck,” she replied. “We wouldn’t keep something like that from you.”
“But he’s still in a coma,” I asked as much as stated.
Sighing, she responded, “You have to understand that ‘coma’ is a relative term. At first, he was in a medically-induced coma to reduce the swelling in his brain. You wouldn’t expect him to show any signs of consciousness while he was still sedated.”
“But now he’s off the sedation?” I asked.
“The sedatives were withdrawn about a week ago,” she replied. “and since then, he’s opened his eyes spontaneously but done little else. However, he has a tracheostomy tube and is on a ventilator, so it’s not like he can talk.”
“Does he track?” I asked. “Do his eyes follow the people in his room?”
“You know just enough about medicine for it to be dangerous, Freck,” she answered. “I don’t want you to jump to the wrong conclusions. He’s recovering from a coma, but it’s too early to say he’s in a vegetative state. His eyes do track, but otherwise he’s very limited in his ability to move.”
“That could be from apraxia,” I said, more to myself. Apraxia results from damage to the dominant motor cortex, such that motor planning is affected. If he had that, even if he regained full use of all his faculties, he might still have trouble initiating muscle movements.
“Could you tell me what happened to him?” I asked with trepidation.
“I suspect you already know he had an epidural hematoma?” she asked and I nodded my head. “By the time he got here, he was within minutes of having his brainstem herniate through the foramen magnum. If that had happened, he wouldn’t be alive now.
“So when he got here, they took him to surgery immediately, induced hypothermia and did a craniotomy,” she continued. “They removed the entire left half of his skull above the ear, and tied off the middle meningeal artery, which of course was the source of the hematoma. They evacuated the hematoma and closed up the scalp, setting the skull segment aside so that the brain would have room to expand unimpeded. The skull segment was frozen with liquid nitrogen and will be replaced at a later date, months in the future.
“In the meantime, his entire head is wrapped in a protective dressing and he’s partially restrained in a heavily padded bed to prevent him from any possibility of injuring himself. That of course limits his movement, which makes it difficult to see his progress.”
“When will he be able to get out of intensive care?” I asked.
“He’s still on a ventilator because of residual swelling in the brainstem,” she answered, “but that seems to be resolving and they’ve started weaning him from the vent. Once he can breathe on his own, he’ll be transferred to a regular room and then eventually, he’ll be transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation unit. His dads are touring facilities now.”
“You mean he’ll hafta go someplace else?” I asked in surprise.
“We have a general pediatric rehab unit on the Upper East Side, but we’re not known for pediatric rehab,” she explained. “His dads want him to go to a facility with an international reputation, which pretty much leaves anything in New York out of the picture.
“Damn!” I responded.
“I’m sorry you’ve been kept in the dark, Freck,” she continued. “I don’t think that’s ever a good idea. In the absence of information, kids tend to assume the worst.”
“It is pretty bad though,” I pointed out. “Kyle has a long, rough road ahead of him, and I intend to be there by his side. His speech and language are likely to be affected, which could be devastating to him. With luck his visual-spatial and math abilities will be intact, and he’ll still be able to enjoy music, but that’s still not a given. I’m not sure about motor skills, ’cause he’s left-handed and either motor strip could be dominant.”
Laughing, Angie responded, “Freck, you really do know way too little about way too much. You can’t second-guess the nature of a brain injury in a child, particularly when it comes to hemorrhage. Kids tend to recover much faster than adults, and the watershed injuries we sometimes see in adults are uncommon in kids.”
“That’s a relief,” I responded. Watershed injuries arose when the pressure inside the skull exceeded the blood pressure, preventing the flow of oxygen to the most vulnerable structures in the brain. Short-term memory and the ability to learn new information were often affected, which would have been devastating in Kyle.
“Now let’s talk about your relationship with Kyle…” she continued.
It was a few days later, while in the midst of my watching the TV, that there was a knock on the door. Actually, it was the outer door to the suite and I was sitting up in bed, dressed in nothing but a hospital gown. It wasn’t like anyone had thought to bring me any clothes to wear. Technically, I still wasn’t supposed to be walking on my own and since I was alone, I yelled out, “Come in!”
From my vantage point, I could see the door open and close, but I couldn’t see who had entered. I got a brief glimpse of a young man pushing a wheelchair, but a first I couldn’t see who was in the chair, and then I could see it was Kyle. Instinct took over as I leapt out of the bed and started to run toward my baby, but I quickly realized that wasn’t a good idea. Stopping dead in my tracks, I realized that my gown was barely covering my torso, let alone what was below. Kyle and his nurse got an eyeful, and Kyle actually smiled and gave me a thumbs-up with his left hand. That he was still able to respond to the situation with humor was a very good sign indeed.
Like me, Kyle was wearing a hospital gown, but his beautiful hair was gone and his entire head was wrapped in a thick white dressing. “Oh my god, Kyle, you got a haircut,” I exclaimed as I approached my lover a bit more cautiously, sitting down in the chair by my bedside so I could look directly at him at eye level. I guess my gown was still open in back, because I felt my bare ass on the vinyl surface of the chair, but that really didn’t matter. Kyle was in front of me, and he was smiling! His smile was a bit crooked, which I guess was to be expected, but it was a full smile and his eyes were sparkling.
Haltingly, he began to speak, but at first nothing came out. It was clear he was having trouble forming words and perhaps his vocal cords weren’t working. I noticed he still had a tracheostomy tube in his neck, but there was some sort of cap on it, so it was closed off. That probably meant he was breathing around the tube, so he should have been able to speak, if he only could.
“I… I…” he began in a strained voice before he finally managed to say, “H…how… how l…l…long?”
“How long have we been in the hospital?”
“Y…y…y…yeah,” he replied.
“Actually, I’ve lost track of the date,” I answered. “It’s late June, I think. Maybe Monday or Tuesday…”
“It’s Tuesday, June twenty-second,” the nurse answered from behind Kyle. “Sunday was Father’s Day and a week from Saturday, it will be the Fourth of July.”
“A m…m…month?” Kyle asked.
“Not quite,” I responded.
“Are y…y…you okay?” he asked.
“The guy who hit you also hit me on the top of the head,” I answered, “but I only got a concussion. It wasn’t a bad one. I shoulda gone home right away, but I think they kept me because they were afraid of what I’d do, with my history of tryin’ to fly from the Battery Park garage and runnin’ away in Paris and all.” The look of panic on Kyle’s face told me I’d probably said too much and so I quickly added, “I’d never do anything like that now, though. For one thing, my head’s in a much better place these days and for another, I know you’re gonna need me more than ever now.”
“W…w…wh…what happened?” he asked.
“Do you remember anything about what happened to you?” I asked.
Rather than answer, he just shook his head. I’d read that pre-traumatic amnesia was common in head injuries, so I wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t that he was having trouble remembering. More likely, the short-term memories from that entire day or even from the preceding days were never laid down and, hence, those memories were gone forever.
“We were at a protest,” I began, and Kyle’s eyes got wide as saucers when I told him that. “There was a black man in Minneapolis, George Floyd, who was strangled by the police on Memorial Day.”
“L…l…lynched w…with a n…n…knee,” Kyle remembered.
“Yes, exactly,” I confirmed. “So we were with our friends… Asher and Seth, Carl and Clarke and his brother, Joseph, Josh and his sisters and their boyfriends, Larry and Dave, and Dave’s uncles. We spent most of the day in Union Square, and stayed out later than we’d meant to, especially since it was a Friday night. Anyway, we got separated and so Asher texted us to meet them at the bus stop, but Fourteenth Street was filled with people and there was no way to find anyone, much less catch a bus home.
“So a few minutes later, we got a text from Asher, this time telling us to meet them in front of Cooper Union. We tried going down Broadway, but the police had it completely blocked off, so we went down Fourteenth and tried going down Fourth Avenue, but it too was blocked. We had to meet up with our friends though, so we tried to go around the police, even though they were in riot gear.”
Kyle literally rolled his eyes. His humor was back in full force, which was a very good sign.
“What we didn’t know at the time was that thousands of protesters had crossed over the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn, and they were headed right for us, up Bowery,” I continued.
“Fuck!” Kyle exclaimed as naturally as he always did. I’d heard that swear words were always the first thing to come back, and Kyle was demonstrating that clearly. I was about to continue explaining what happened next, when it dawned on me that I had videos of the whole thing.
“There were bystanders who captured your encounter with the police on their phones,” I continued, getting out my laptop and setting it up so Kyle could watch the video too. I turned it so he could see and played both videos in succession.
“You were hurt too!” were the first words out of Kyle’s mouth after watching, and they were clear and without any stutter at all. I took that as a very good sign.
“Yeah, but it was only a mild concussion,” I replied. “I was a little dizzy and I’m still a little unsteady on my feet, but I’m told that could last a few months. The main thing is there was no lasting damage… and I’ve been way more worried about you.”
After a prolonged, thoughtful pause, Kyle continued, “I was an asshole. I sh…shouldn’t h…have confronted him. I w…want t…to apologize.”
“That might not be a good idea,” I responded. “We’re suing the NYPD over what happened to both of us.”
“No! Absolutely not!” Kyle exclaimed with vehemence. “W…we’re t…trying t…to f…f…f…fix the police. N…not break them. Th…that of…f…ficer t…tried t…to stop me. I at…t…tacked him. H…he n…needs t…training. N…n…not det…tention.”
That was pure Kyle – brash and in your face, but practical. “I’m not sure I can forgive him so easily,” I responded, “but the more I’ve watched this, the more I think that his response was excessive… even for an adult attacker. He had no reason to fear for his life and the use of violence to subdue a child wasn’t appropriate. You could’ve been secured with physical restraint without the need to resort to violence. I think that’s why the dads want to sue the NYPD… to force them to face the need for better training.”
“B…but the of…f…ficer’ll b…be f…f…fired,” Kyle countered. “Inst…stead of takin’ the city’s m…money d…during th…the pandemic, g…give th…them m…money f…f…for b…better t…training.” The depth of Kyle’s forgiveness was amazing, and although a part of me agreed with him, convincing the dads that it was better to give than to receive would be a challenge.
There’d been a lot of talk lately about defunding the police, which I thought was crazy. Oh, I knew the NYPD would have to cut its budget substantially this year, but that was because of the pandemic and the loss of tax revenues from the resulting economic slowdown. Yes, a smaller police force with a strong emphasis on community policing would be much more effective, but simply taking money from the police and pouring it into social services wasn’t the way to get there. Actually, police that lived in the community, organized team sports and helped kids with their homework would be far more effective than a boatload of social workers. It was gonna take more, not less money to stamp out systemic racism. Perhaps my foundation’s first project could be to provide seed money for demonstration projects with the NYPD.
“Oh my God, Kyle, look at you!” Jake called out from the door. “We went to see you in Intensive Care and they told us you were here with Freck. How are you doing, Buddy?”
Rolling his eyes, undoubtedly at the use of ‘Buddy’, he answered, “C…c…cogni…ni…t…tivel…ly, I th…think I’m int…tact. I’m v…v…very ap…p…praxic th…though. Th…thank G…god I’m n…not a…ph…ph…phasic. I c…can s…still derive th…the F…f…fourier T…t…transf…f…form of a t…triangle w…wave in m…my head. I can inv…vert a f…f…fourth order t…tensor t…too. Even if I’m s…stuck l…l…like th…this, I’m in b…bet…ter sh…shape th…than Steph…ph…phen H…Hawk…k…king was.
“Th…the p…p…progn…nosis f…f…for f…f…full rec…cov…very is exc…cel…lent, I th…th…think. B…b…but it m…may t…t…take a w…while t…to g…grow m…my hair b…back.”
Here my boyfriend was struggling to speak, and yet he was talking about deriving Fourier transforms, inverting fourth-order tensors in his head, and then he cracked a joke about having to regrow his hair. What was especially moving though, was when he said that even if he didn’t get any better than he was now, he was still in better shape than the famous cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, who’d died of Lu Gehrig’s Disease, had been. I was sure he was right and although his prognosis for a full recovery was excellent, he had a long road ahead of him.
“So… the first thing we need to do is to get you out of the ICU and into a regular room,” Ken began, then turning to me, he added, “Freck I’m sure you realized by now that you don’t really need to be hospitalized. We justified it based on your history of two serious suicide attempts…”
I was about to object, and strenuously, when Ken held up his outstretched palm and said, “Yes, I know you don’t consider either your attempt to take a high dive off the Battery Park Garage, nor your side trip in Paris to have been suicide attempts, but your motives aren’t important here. We couldn’t balance watching you with visiting Kyle and attending to our patients. We had reason enough to worry without having to worry about you’re going off the deep end again, so by invoking the history of multiple prior suicide attempts, we were able to justify keeping you hospitalized. Presbyterian paid for it in any case, but don’t be surprised if the CEO and the head of development try to hit you up for a major donation.”
Laughing, I reported, “The CEO’s already been in to see me, twice.”
“So what’s going to happen now, guys,” Ken continued, “is that Freck, you’ll be discharged today and you’ll move into what was Jake’s and my bedroom in this suite, after housekeeping cleans the suite, that is. Housekeeping has to thoroughly clean and disinfect this room before it can be used by another patient, even if they’re from the same family, so Kyle, you’ll be transferred into this room this evening.” Kyle responded by giving a thumb’s up. “Jake and I will go back to sleeping in the house with Roger… well, not with Roger, but in our own house, where Roger currently sleeps.
“Kyle will stay here for now, continuing his recovery until he’s ready to begin rehab. The dressings will come off and you’ll be fit with a soft helmet to protect the brain until the skull flap that was removed during your craniotomy can be replaced. That won’t happen for at least a couple of months, to allow the brain edema to fully resolve. Your trach and PEG tubes will come out in another week and the openings will heal up on their own in a matter of days.” Shit, I hadn’t realized Kyle had a gastrostomy as well as a tracheostomy.
Suddenly, it dawned on me and I asked Ken, “This is what you do for a living, isn’t it?”
“It’s a good part of what I do,” he confirmed. “My specialty is epileptology and I deal mostly with kids with seizure disorders. About half of the kids I treat have congenital epilepsy and I treat most of those in the outpatient setting, but the other half are acquired, and most of them from traumatic brain injury. As such I serve as the primary attending for a good many of the inpatient TBI cases here at Morgan Stanley.”
“I understand you’re gonna send Kyle away for his rehab,” I asked more than stated.
Sighing, Jake answered, “Much depends on Kyle’s recovery in the coming weeks, but he’s probably going to need intensive rehabilitation to deal with that apraxia he self-diagnosed. We want to give Kyle the best opportunity for recovery.
“There is a pediatric rehab unit on the Upper East Side, but it doesn’t have a designated brain injury unit. The only dedicated pediatric brain injury rehab unit in New York State is Blythedale, in Westchester County. The top-ranked places are all outside of the area, however, most notably the Kennedy-Krieger Institute in Baltimore, National Rehab Hospital in Washington, D.C., Children’s Hospital at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, and the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, formerly known as the Rehab Institute of Chicago. We’re looking at some others too, but with the pandemic going on, we’re not going to look at anyplace that’s not within a few hours driving distance, and certainly not in Houston.” That was a major relief.
“Fuckin’ unbelievable,” Kyle responded in outrage to what the President was saying at his rally at Mount Rushmore. It was the Fourth of July holiday, which was on Friday, July third, and the President was throwing caution to the wind, literally. He’d overridden the Park Service and demanded fireworks over the monument in spite of the fire risk, and his rally involved anything but social distancing.
The President’s rhetoric was divisive as he decried the so-called attempts of protesters to ‘revise’ American history. He made it sound like Democrats were trying to brainwash our youth and that liberals were trying to tear down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Granted, Washington and Jefferson did own slaves and their role in founding the country had to be tempered by that, but that was a far cry from John C. Calhoun and Andrew Jackson, who actively promoted slavery. Monuments to the Confederacy were erected, not as a tribute to The South or the Civil War, but as a tribute to slavery. They were erected long after the Civil War ended, during the era of Jim Crowe, and they were intended to put blacks in their place. Those monuments needed to come down.
In supporting keeping those hateful monuments, in insisting that military bases named after Confederate generals not be renamed or that the Washington Redskins keep their name, the President was showing himself to be a white racist and he was further dividing the nation. Kyle was having none of it. “What a dick!” he exclaimed. His speech was improving every day and although it was still halting, it was much more spontaneous and he no longer stuttered.
We were in the ‘living room’ part of the hospital suite, watching the President’s rally on a large 4k HDR TV. I’d moved into the bedroom and Kyle now had the room with the hospital bed, which I’d previously occupied. Kyle was sitting in his wheelchair and wearing only a pair of boxers. He still had his tracheostomy tube and his ‘PEG’ gastrostomy tube, but the surgical dressings had all been removed and he’d been fit with a soft helmet to protect his brain. Until the removed skull flap could be replaced, he was at risk of further brain injury from a fall or in the unlikely event of a seizure. Technically he was supposed to wear a hospital gown, but he hated them. The nurses let him forego the gown in favor of boxers, but nothing more than that, as a precaution in case of a medical emergency.
I was sitting next to him in a recliner chair, dressed in a pair of cargo shorts, but otherwise shirtless and barefoot. I didn’t want my boyfriend to feel self-conscious about his state of undress. We were watching the President’s speech on CNN, so we were getting decidedly liberal commentary along with the President’s speech, which was fine with us. The people in attendance were outdoors, but they were still all clustered together, shoulder to shoulder, and almost no one was wearing a mask. It was a super-spreader event of the President’s own making.
Street protests continued in communities throughout the U.S., big and small, and the call of ‘Black Lives Matter’ could be heard everywhere. Hell, Kyle and I would still be out there protesting if it hadn’t been for his head injury. Our friends were. The protests were peaceful, but the President kept referring to the protesters as unamerican terrorists, infused by anarchists from the radical left who were intent on destroying the American way of life. Frankly, if the American way of life meant incarcerating thousands upon thousands of black and brown young men and boys, just because the color of their skin made them suspect, then the American way of life needed changing. We were pissed as hell that more than a hundred fifty years after the end of slavery, blacks still didn’t get equal treatment under the law.
Fixing the inherent, systemic racism of American society was another matter. Although equal under the law, black and brown people remained intractably stuck on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, and decades of so-called affirmative action had done little to change that. Clearly, equal opportunity was not enough to make up for more than a century of oppression. On top of that, black and brown people were overwhelmingly the victims of environmental injustice. The police were only part of the problem, but they made an easy target. Yes, there was a need for better recruitment, better screening, much better training and eliminating the culture behind the ‘blue wall of silence’ that made it impossible to weed out and punish the few bad apples. When they became obstacles to reform, the power of the unions needed to be curbed. Perhaps most importantly, police officers needed to be a part of the communities they served, rather than outsiders who retreated to their suburban homes when off-duty.
Although calls to defund the police made for an easy soundbite, the fact of the matter was that police reforms would cost more – not less in the short run. Indeed, we were already seeing a dramatic increase in violent crime and shootings in the weeks following the killing of George Floyd. A good part of that probably reflected the frustrations of people who’d been living under shelter-in-place orders and who’s kids had been out of school too long. Some of the shootings likely represented gang initiations that had been postponed during the worst of the pandemic. However, a significant part of the problem also stemmed from a fear of policing that made the rank-and-file afraid to pursue petty crime.
More personally, we were suing the NYPD, but it was over Kyle’s own very strong objection. As he saw it, getting a cash settlement from the city would make it all too easy to sweep what happened under the rug, rather than addressing the underlying problems of the NYPD. He didn’t blame the individual officer who’d hit him on the head with a baton, but rather blamed a culture of violence that was entirely avoidable. A lawsuit did little to bring about actual change.
Unfortunately, however, we had no choice in the matter. The health insurance policy from our dads’ employment with Presbyterian specifically excluded coverage for injuries that resulted while serving in the military or from participation in a riot. In no way, shape or form was our peaceful protest a riot, but the insurance carrier had broad discretion in designating what constituted a riot, and they were threatening to exercise that discretion with Kyle. Apparently, it’s way easier to win a lawsuit against the NYPD for use of excessive force than against one’s own insurance company for denial of coverage. Kyle’s medical expenses were already well over a million dollars, and that was with the insurer’s negotiated discount. Even if I paid the bill myself, we would’ve risked losing coverage for related medical expenses for the rest of Kyle’s life. Suing the city allowed the insurer to recoup their costs without putting Kyle’s future coverage at risk.
And people wonder why we need a national health insurance program.
“That was nothing more than a campaign speech,” Kyle stated emphatically at the conclusion of the President’s remarks at Mount Rushmore, “and it was at the taxpayers’ expense!”
“Did you see how some of the people who came to hear the President’s speech clashed with the native American protesters outside Mount Rushmore?” I added. “The protesters told them to go home. What idiots!”
“Yeah, but the protesters got them back,” Kyle responded. “They said, ‘We are home. You’re the ones who don’t belong here.’”
“Yeah, that was a great response,” I agreed, then added, “The fireworks are pretty lame.”
“Fireworks on TV are always lame,” Kyle countered.
“Yeah, but these are particularly lame,” I replied. “What a waste of taxpayer dollars, and to think the President put the surrounding forest at risk of fire for such a pathetic display.”
“No expense or risk is too great, provided it helps get the him reelected,” Kyle agreed.
“Hey guys,” the neurosurgical resident called out as he entered the suite. “How are my favorite boyfriends doing this evening?”
Flipping off the TV, Kyle answered, “Other than being pissed-off at your man, we’re okay.”
“Just because I voted for the jerk doesn’t mean he’s ‘my man’,” the resident replied. “I grew up in a family that always voted Republican. I really thought he’d be better for the economy. Who knew he was insane?”
“Um, I did, Kyle did, all our parents did, my friends Asher and Seth did, their parents did, their grandparents did…” I started to answer, but Kyle interrupted.
“Clarke’s parents on Staten Island voted Republican, but then they’re in prison now. That should tell you something.”
“Okay, okay,” the resident responded. “I get it. We all make mistakes. Come to think of it though, didn’t you say your friend’s parents on Staten Island worked for the mayor, who’s a Democrat?”
“Yeah, I know,” Kyle replied. “There’s plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the aisle. Just don’t make that mistake again,” Kyle replied.
“With the way he’s handled the pandemic, there’s no chance of that happening,” the resident agreed, and then he continued, “So Kyle, are you ready to get those tubes out?”
“Boy, am I ever,” my boyfriend replied.
“We’ll start with the PEG,” the resident explained. “That way if you vomit, your airway will still be protected by the trach tube.”
“Such a positive attitude,” I countered.
“Hey, I haven’t killed anyone, at least not yet,” the resident responded. “So on the end of this PEG tube is a rubber mushroom cap that keeps it situated in the stomach. Not only does it keep the tube from coming out, but it keeps the tube from getting pulled into your gut. The downside is that it takes a bit of a tug to pull it out.”
Without even telling Kyle he was about to do something; he reached down and placed a gauze square over the tube and yanked the tube right out. Applying pressure to the gauze, he held up the tube, showing us the cap, which looked way to big to have come out through such a small hole. “There, that didn’t hurt me one bit.”
“Very funny,” Kyle replied. “For a moment, it felt like I was gonna throw up.”
“That’s usual,” the resident replied as he taped the gauze dressing in place, covering up the hole where the tube had been. “The opening should heal up completely in just a few days.”
“Now the trach tube is considerably easier,” he went on as he loosened the Velcro straps holding it in place and merely slid it right out. He then placed a heavy piece of gauze over the hole and applied a very thick piece of tape to hold it in place. “We use medical duct tape for this, to keep air from escaping through the hole. Otherwise you’d have trouble talking and the hole wouldn’t heal. This way, it should close off in a few and then we can remove the tape.
“And we’re done!” he concluded.
“One step closer to going home,” Kyle replied.
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage and pre-teen boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is unintentional. Although there are references to political figures as inspired by current events, any resemblance to a particular figure, past, present or future, is intended to be coincidental. As always, opinions expressed by characters in the story represent the opinions of the characters and are not necessarily representative of those of the author nor the sites to which the story has been posted. The author retains full copyright.