One week later:
Jim looked up as the door opened and Simon stepped into the room. He glanced quickly at Blair, but the anthropologist was still sleeping deeply, the effects of his last dose of sedation yet to wear off. Simon shook his head as Jim began to stand up, so he sat back down and reached once more for Blairís hand.
Blair was due to be wakened again soon from his induced sleep so that the doctors could test his breathing ability. It was a procedure that terrified both men as Blair struggled to pull air into unresponsive lungs, his eyes widening in fear, perspiration beading his brow with the effort.
Through it all, Jim forced himself to remain calm, stoically smiling down at the ailing man, whispering assurances and encouragement even as his hands bled where his clenching fingernails dug gouges into his palms.
This would be the third attempt. Jim had been watching the clock, despising the minute handís inexorable sweep around the face. His eyes felt gritty and sore, and he knew it would not take much to push him back over the edge of exhaustion.
Heíd been visiting Blair each morning before heading off to the station. Simon had the sense, over Jimís protestations, to place the detective on desk duty until Blair began to improve.
Simonís reasons were twofold. He had seen first-hand the control Jim had over his senses when Sandburg was there to guide him. Heíd also experienced the results when the anthropologist was not at Jimís side.
The zone-outs were a frightening thing to see, almost a waking death, and not something the captain wanted to witness again. The desk duty also freed Jim up to spend more time with Blair at the hospital, should he need to.
So Jim worked at the station, leaving early if Blair was scheduled for some procedure or test, then stayed at the young manís side until the early hours of morning, catching a nap on a portable bed before hurrying home to shower and change for work.
Simon had managed to encourage Jim to leave Blair when he was taken for plasmapharesis treatments, a procedure Simon could not even pronounce, let alone hazard a guess as to its detail.
Jim had told him it was a treatment where they washed the toxins from Blairís blood in the hope they could shorten the duration of the illness and lessen the severity of the paralysis.
The procedure took several hours, and Simon insisted that Jim accompany him to the cafeteria for a meal at that time, knowing the sentinelís senses would be attuned to his partner should anything go wrong.
Jim refused to leave the hospital grounds, and it was a strange encounter, seated opposite a man who answered every question you threw at him though his attention was firmly focused two floors above.
Simon had not been present before when Blair had been roused. Jim had described it to him in minute, terrifying detail, and the captain had vowed, despite his own fear, not to allow either of his friends to suffer through the experience alone again. He moved now to Blairís bedside and looked down at the sleeping man.
"Howís he doing?"
Jim leaned forward protectively over the still form and continued to gently stroke Blair's hand. "The doctors are optimistic that the plasmapharesis is working. I thought earlier that I feltÖ" He shrugged tiredly. "I was dozing. I thought he squeezed my hand but he hasnít done it since."
"Thatís good," Simon answered, trying to smile.
"Yeah, I guess."
Both men looked up as two men in white coats and several nurses entered the room. "Jim. How are you doing?" Dr. Richard Parry strode quickly over and shook Jimís hand, then turned to Simon. "Captain Banks. I didnít expect to see you here."
Simon smiled wanly as he shook the doctorís hand. "I could think of better things to do, Doctor, but then again, so could Jim and Blair. I like to keep tabs on my men."
Parry smiled and nodded, then rubbed his hands to warm them. "Letís get this show on the road." He leaned forward and pressed his stethoscope to Blairís chest, then looked up at Jim as he slung it around his neck. "You told the nurse he squeezed your hand earlier?"
Jim shrugged again. "I thought he did. I donít know. He hasnít done anything since then." His voice dropped to a whisper as he continued to idly stroke Blairís hand. "I asked him to do it again but he didnít."
The doctor straightened up and squeezed Jimís shoulder. "Itís a good sign, Jim. The nerve tests were encouraging. Iím confident weíre on the home stretch here. Letís wake him up and see."
Blair struggled to shift the heavy weight that sat upon his chest, panicking when it would not move and his efforts to draw in air were hampered. He groaned deep in his throat in frustration, startled when no sound issued from his mouth.
"Thatís it, Blair. Come on, buddy. I know you can do it."
*Jim? * The voice came from above him and Blair forced his heavy eyelids open, blinking drowsily at the blurry images in front of him. A face came close to his, a broad hand stroking hypnotically across his forehead, soothing him back toward sleep, but then the suffocating feeling was back and his eyes opened wide as he fought to drag air into his recalcitrant lungs.
"No, no. Donít panic. Itís all right. Iím here."
The hand slid around to the back of his head, lifting it slightly from the pillow and he felt his breathing ease slightly. He blinked slowly and forced himself to concentrate on the sweet cool air now filling his lungs, consciously trying to keep his breathing slow and shallow and not choke on the hard tube that filled his throat.
"Thatís it. Looking good, Chief."
Blair tried to look up as the endearment was spoken, but his neck muscles seemed lax and unresponsive, his head too heavy. Jimís voice droned on, reassuringly close to his ear, and he tried to follow the words.
"Just concentrate on breathing, Sandburg. Docís going to take that tube out of your throat in just a minute and put an oxygen mask on your face."
His head was lowered gently back to the pillow and suddenly Jim was gone, his place taken by a stranger with a round face and bald head. Blair panicked, his breath coming in short gasps that did nothing to replenish his oxygen and he felt his vision begin to gray out.
"Hey. Hey. Take it easy. Iím still here. Iím right here. See?"
Jimís voice came now from somewhere behind him, and his chin was lifted until he could see the familiar face of his friend above him. "Iím not going anywhere," Jim assured him. "I need to stay out of Dr. Parryís way while he takes the tube out. You concentrate on breathing and just keep looking at me. Okay?"
Blair blinked once, hoping that Jim would pick up on the signal, relaxing as the detective smiled and a warm hand went back to stroking his forehead.
The bald-headed man was back, leaning down close to his face and smiling. "Blair, I'm going to take the tube out of your throat now, you'll be pleased to hear. It might be a little uncomfortable, but just do exactly what I ask you to do and it will be over very quickly, all right?"
He thought he blinked his eyes, but his concentration was waning, his thoughts drifting. He felt hands near his mouth loosening the tapes that stuck to his lips. As the head of the bed was raised, the room spun violently and he clamped his eyes shut as nausea surged. Dimly he could hear the doctor instructing him to blow out a breath. The tube was pulled from his throat quickly, leaving him gasping and coughing weakly, then a mask was secured over his face, air puffing reassuringly into his mouth and nose.
The doctor stood by the bed and spoke for long moments, explaining Blairís illness and its outcome, but much of what was said washed over him in a haze. He focused instead on forcing his lungs to expand and relax, the effort draining him physically, the soothing sensation of Jimís hand on his head allowing him to drift away.
Jim watched as Blairís eyes slowly closed and his breathing evened out, punctuated occasionally by a deep sigh. He pulled a Kleenex from the box on the bedside table and wiped gently at the thin line of drool that seeped from beneath the oxygen mask.
"What now?" He looked at the doctor.
"This is a big improvement, Jim," Richard Parry said as he pulled Blairís chart from the basket at the foot of the bed. "Iím not going to kid you, though. Heís got a way to go yet. Heís still not completely out of the woods with the pneumonia but now that heís breathing on his own, we can start some chest physiotherapy to try to clear the congestion. Weíll give him at least one more plasmapharesis procedure and some immunoglobulin to really give this thing a kick in the ass."
Doctor Parry scribbled instructions on the chart and handed it to the nurse before continuing. "Once he begins to regain some feeling and strength in his extremities, weíll start him on some gross motor physiotherapy. If all goes well, I think we can look at moving him out of ICU tomorrow. Itíll depend on Blair a little but I think itíll be about another week before we move him to a rehabilitation facility."
Jim was startled by the comment. "Couldnít I just take him home? I could hire someone to work with him there."
"Itís an intensive 24/7 commitment initially, Jim," Dr. Parry said. "Not just from Blair, but also from you, as well as his therapist. You wouldnít be doing him any favors by skipping that part of his treatment. Heíll also need occupational therapy to teach him to speak again, to eat, to write."
Jim had given little thought to Blair's post-illness care, assuming he'd just have to build up his strength and go home. Now he was deeply shocked by the amount of help Blair would still need. "But I wantÖ"
"Jim?" Simon spoke sharply from his position by the door where he had retreated when Blair had first begun struggling for breath. His face was still damp with sweat, but his hands no longer shook, and he stepped forward now to place one hand on the detectiveís arm. "Letís pretend the doctor knows more about this than we do, huh?" At Jimís hesitation, he tugged slightly. "Letís go grab a cup of coffee. Lord knows, I need one after witnessing that."
Jim looked at Blair and brushed an unruly curl away from the sleeping face. "Will you call me if heÖ"
Richard Parry nodded. "If he wakes or thereís any change at all, Iíll make sure youíre paged."
"Thanks." With a final look at his slumbering friend, Jim allowed Simon to lead him from the room.
To Chapter Six