A continuation of the Alastair Saga
Chapter 1: 5 January 2021
Alastair's eyes open to the soothing words of a nurse coaxing him awake. For a brief moment, he's dazed, caught in that lull between wakefulness and sleep; then, he catches the word "breakfast" on the nurse's lips. He swallows, suddenly aware of his hunger.
Although he is in a perpetual state of pain, he still has an appetite. He'll eat what is served him three times per day, though he needs help getting food into his mouth and encouragement to finish everything. While it is not voracious, it is better than nothing, because it means he is not sick enough to require being fed through a tube. When he was first admitted, he could not keep solid food down; now, at least, he rarely throws up. He is no longer losing weight at an alarming pace. He never complains about the quality of his meals, which are specially prepared based on his nutritional needs, and willingly takes oral medication without much griping. It could be that he is too weak to resist, too tired. Or that he knows his assortment of pills will make him feel better. Whatever the case may be, he does not put up a fight.
Alastair is given a cup of ice water complete with a lid and plastic straw with his breakfast. The nurse in charge of administering his morning medicines hands him the first few doses, which must be taken on an empty stomach. "Here you are," she murmurs, placing the first one in Alastair's mouth. She holds the water to his lips and directs him to take a sip. He does so, then swallows, watching the nurse with a forlorn expression.
Joselyn, her nametag reads. She's the nurse who usually helps him take his medications in the mornings. Alastair has paid attention to her face and voice before, but never to her nametag.
"Good. Good job." When Alastair has taken his final pre-breakfast pill, Joselyn gives him a reassuring smile. Alastair ignores her. He's still half asleep, and he does not feel like speaking, even though he can; however, his speech is slurred and broken, and he often forgets a word and loses his train of thought. It's from the brain damage caused by his injury and long-term alcohol abuse, and it will not be fully reversible.
He averts his eyes from Joselyn, unwilling to maintain contact. Shame wells within him at what he has become: sick, helpless, dying. The doctors always talk with Marie and Mother about how sick he is like he isn't there. Like he's incapable of understanding them.
He once asked Mother, Am I going to die? The question had taken so much effort to speak, he remembers. He also remembers that he was propped up in bed, as he often is, and leaning against Mother whilst she held his hand. She looked really sad when he said that question, and she might have cried. Alastair does not recall if she did. But she said something like I don't know, and that really worried him. It made him realize that he did not want to die.
His family will be so sad if he leaves them like this. They're already really sad to see him this sick. They love him, even though they know what he is.
Alastair eats his breakfast in silence. Occasionally, Joselyn has to assist him in getting food onto his fork or guide his arm toward his mouth. His muscles are still so weak, even after weeks of physical and occupational therapy.
There are more pills he must take with breakfast, plus a third round of them after he is finished. Many of them are for his liver. He also needs medications for his lungs, kidneys, and brain, even his stomach and immune system. But at least he knows why he needs them. He's been sick, very sick, and he has advanced liver disease. None of this is his fault.
Yet Alastair is beginning to remember that it is his fault, all of it. Bits and pieces of blurry memory tell him so. He's sick because he spent so much of his time drinking. He put alcohol before his family and his country.
Occupational therapy occurs not long after breakfast. Alastair is reluctant to sit up, something he struggles to do by himself, to swivel around so he's facing the therapist and nurse, to stand. They have to be careful in getting him to stand because he has tubes in his arms and under his nose. Alastair does not like the tubes, but he's been told he needs them. Like how he needs to be plugged into the dialysis machine at night. He used to need it all the time, but now he only needs it at night because his kidneys are getting better. The rest of him won't. His pain is only a little bit better, and his liver continues to fail.
They hoist Alastair up off the bed with their arms looped under his shoulders. He whimpers softly, wobbles, leans heavily against the two people supporting him. He can't walk or even stand without aid.
It's a short trip to the bathroom, but for him it's debilitatingly exhausting. He can only manage to shuffle forward in baby steps. After months of immobility, he has to relearn how to walk, and the process is painful and tiring. It's like he doesn't want to move, or he simply can't. And it hurts, just like everything else.
I've hurt them. Three words bobbing up and down in the haze of his mind. He's alone, resting in his bed, biding the time between treatments and lunch. Marie cannot come this time of day, and he misses her, so he's thinking about her, about their children. All of them are worried every time he sees them. And they're worried about him, even little Hildegard, who wants to play with him and spend time with him.
Did he ever spend time with his children? He loves them, loves them so much, but has he ever shown it? They still come to see him, and he tells them he loves them when he can. But he does not remember spending whole afternoons with them, or doing activities together, or having long conversations. Has he really never acknowledged them?
His doctors told him that memory loss was common for people with brain damage. Alastair has brain damage now; he fell from a chair and hit his head on the floor. There is a small crack in his skull that is still healing. But he can get better and start to remember more things again.
He is a bad father and a bad husband. He should be there for them. But he is here, and he is sick, and he has liver disease. And brain damage. His head still feels gray and foggy sometimes.
Right now, Alastair should be sleeping. He's very tired from this morning's therapy and the tests they did on him. But he feels like closing his eyes will make him more sad and useless. Sleep will not make him a good person. In fact, he fears that nothing will.
He finishes lunch in just under thirty minutes. The nurse tells him she is proud of him for eating all of it without being prompted. "Thank you," he slurs. It is very important he be polite.
"You are welcome," replies the nurse. She squeezes his right hand. "You are doing very well, Alastair."
Alastair does not feel up to responding with words. He is not fully sure he understands what the nurse is saying anyway.
The nurse adjusts the Santa hat that has begun sliding off his head. Ever since Marie gave it to him the week of Christmas, he has not wanted to take it off. It makes him feel...lighter. Safer. He feels better with it on.
"'Twas starting to fall off," the nurse chuckles. "There, all fixed. Is there anything else you need?"
Alastair thinks for some seconds. His brain feels like clouds, or rubber. Is there anything he needs? Yes. There is. He remembers it now.
"Marie." She will comfort him. She always comforts him. Marie still loves him, even though he's hurt her.
"Repeat after me: Monday."
"Good, good." The speech therapist smiles warmly at Alastair and pats him on the shoulder. "You have trouble pronouncing 'Wednesday,' don't you? 'Tis alright. We take it one day at a time. And your enunciation is getting so much better."
Alastair is staring into space again. The gray seeps into his mind, and he starts to think about Marie again. He hates seeing her so sad. And Mother...Mother cries when she's with him. She hugs him, kisses his head, begs him to hang in there and stay with her. I don't want to lose you, she often whispers.
And he, he wants the pain to stop. He hates hurting all the time. He hates seeing other people cry, and he hates being sick, helpless. He hates being so weak. He wants his liver to start working again.
Alastair thinks he remembers grabbing a bottle from somewhere. He remembers unscrewing it. Tilting his head back. And the burn of alcohol is so familiar to him that the memory is no longer specific; it is all of his memories of drinking. The taste is one he has known and...and craved for decades.
For the rest of therapy, he is lethargic, despondent, but no one can tell the difference. Alastair is always plagued by malaise these days. He is too tired to answer questions anyway.
After the therapy session is over, he sinks into his bed and closes his eyes. He is asleep in moments. The nurse who checks up on him a little while later pulls the covers, including a garnet blanket his mother knitted for him for Christmas, up to his chin. He fixes Alastair's hat again before proceeding to monitor his vitals.
Alastair rests peacefully, his chest rising and falling evenly despite its slight rattle. He appears almost childlike, serene, though the stubble on his pallid face and puffy circles round his eyes reveal the truth.
When Marie comes by to visit, Alastair is awake. His face lights up as she enters the room. He feels the stirrings of excitement, of hope, that she is here and she still loves him. No matter what, she always comes back; she will never leave him. She promises she will be back soon every time she leaves.
"Hi, darling," coos Marie, leaning over to kiss his head.
Alastair reaches for her, wraps his thin left arm around her waist. He cranes his neck so he can give her a little peck on the cheek; in reality, he misses her cheek entirely and pecks her jaw instead. "I love you," he murmurs, burying his face into her shoulder. And he means it. He loves her. He has never stopped loving her. The only person he stopped loving is himself.
"I love you, too, Allie." Marie envelops him in a hug. It feels so good to be caressed by her.
He stills feels guilty, so guilty, for making her suffer like this. She does not deserve it. He wants to cry, but he won't, because it hurts too much.
"Are you having a good day?" she asks him. He whimpers. His belly hurts, and his head won't stop pounding. No amount of medicine will make him feel well. Being with her makes him less miserable, but it does not make him less sick, so he does not say anything.
A guard speaks up for him. "He's been very quiet today, Your Majesty."
"Oh, alright...is something on your mind?" She's talking to him. Stroking his Santa hat.
"Aaaw...'tis okay. 'Tis okay. I am here now. I missed you, too."
"I...am sorry." Alastair forces the next words out with some effort. He knows she is sad, and that it is his fault. "For making you sad."
"You haven't...I'm worried about you. You're sick."
"Because I wouldn't stop drinking..."
"Shh. Shh." She rocks him back and forth a little. "Shh. Please hush, Allie."
"I'm sorry," he mumbles. He can tell he's hurting her, but he wants to ease her pain. Make it go away. His pain won't go away, but maybe hers will.
He does not want her to leave. He does not want to be left alone. So he digs his fingers into Marie's clothing and sniffles in the hope that she will stay.
"No, Allie, I must go home. I am sorry." Marie pries Alastair from her clothing. He protests, so she cradles his hands in hers to comfort him. "I need to sup and take care of our children."
She peers into Alastair's eyes, which are sorrowful and unfocused. "I will be back tomorrow. I promise."
Alastair continues to stare. He's thinking about how lonely he will be for the rest of the evening. She won't be here to hug him and hold him and tell him things. She'll be at home, where he can't go, with their children, whom he does not always get to see. He needs to be there for them. But he isn't.
Marie kisses each of Alastair's hands once before letting them go. She sets them down at his sides so don't just flop into the bed. A brief smile, a gentle goodbye, and she is gone. She is going back to her life. Unlike Alastair, she is not sick; she can leave and feel alright.
His nurse helps him lie back down on his bed. It is raised, so he does not have to go far. But he cannot do it by himself. He wishes he could do it by himself. He wants to get better so he does not have to be weak and sick anymore.
Dinner is served at the same time it always is alongside his evening pills. They don't taste very good going down. His dinner is okay, he guesses. And it's supposed to be good for him. He never really cared about whether things he ate were good for him before, but now he can only have food that's good for him.
Alastair doesn't get to choose what he eats anymore, though. He must have what is put in front of him. He takes his first bite and finds it bland, but he still chews and swallows.
It will satisfy his hunger, or at least keep his thoughts at bay.
He needs assistance in finishing his supper; he starts to lose energy as well as interest. The nurse has to move his arm for him and insert the morsels between his lips. She encourages him in a low voice, wipes food particles and saliva from his chin, commends his resolve. "You are strong," she reminds him. "You are strong. Keep fighting, Your Majesty."
But Alastair does not feel strong. He is not strong. He let alcohol take control of his life. He let it win because he is weak, and he gave in to the numbness it offered. He used it to escape.
He is not strong, but he does not say anything to let the nurse know.
Alastair cannot help but crave oblivion. His body tells him to seek it in alcohol, but his mind urges him to go to sleep. There is no alcohol for him, though, and there never will be again. They'll never give it to him no matter how badly much he begs. Sometimes, he shakes and screams. In moments like this, when he is alone and lying down, the temptation becomes the strongest; he feels like he needs it right this instant lest he die. And the doctors and nurses will rush to his side, attempt to calm him down, and administer treatments. They comfort him as he sobs and clean him up if he vomits. Like everyone else here, they treat him with respect.
He has done nothing to earn their respect or even their pity. He brought this upon himself. He is sick because he tried to drink himself to death.
At 8:00 every night, he gets plugged into the dialysis machine. It will filter his blood for the twelve hours he is to spend asleep. Because his kidneys are still healing, they cannot properly carry out their functions; as such, dialysis is necessary so that he might live. They recently switched him from 24-hour dialysis to 12 hours, so he is not hooked up to it during the day. Little by little, he is regaining some physical strength.
Alastair knows he might die, and he hates it. He sees how devastated his family are that they could lose him. The last thing he wants is to hurt them even more. After everything he's done to them, they deserve...if they do not want him to die, he will not.
Yet he does not think he will ever fix things. He thinks he will be forever sick and bedridden. He'll never be the person his family need him to be. He has failed them so much already. Dying would fail them even more.
He drifts off, a half-formed apology to his family resting on his lips.