As the first dull grey rays of sunlight shone through the curtains of Victor’s hospital room, Nikki awoke and looked around a little disoriented at first. She smiled softly as she watched Victor sleep; content that at least he was resting peacefully. Seeing the breakfast Victoria had left for her, Nikki walked around a little to stretch her legs before trying to make herself as comfortable as possible in the chair at Victor’s bedside and going over some of the research Casey had gotten her. “Let’s see,” Nikki murmured, careful not to wake Victor up, “according to the research Casey gave me, paralysis is one of the most common effects of stroke and it’s usually on one side of the body-the one opposite the side of the brain that suffered the stroke.” “But, Victor’s not paralyzed on one side of his body, he’s paralyzed on both sides of his body and only below the waist. So, what’s causing it?”
“As for the speech problems, it seems like it’s definitely aphasia. The question is; what kind?” Nikki thought to herself before continuing. “I know it’s a challenge in using or understanding language.” With a small sigh and a slight shake of her head, she said, “It says strokes can affect people’s ability to talk-which definitely seems to be the case with Victor-read and write, or understand other people’s speech-those things definitely don’t fit. It’s not a problem with understanding what’s being said, it’s a problem with being able to respond; verbally at least.” “Once he gets his speech back,” ‘And he will,’ Nikki promised herself silently before thinking aloud, “I need to keep my eyes and ears open for slurred speech and make sure I know what to do to help if that happens.”
“From what I’ve read, it sounds like Victor has expressive aphasia, I could tell he knew what he wanted to say, but for some reason, he couldn’t say it, it’s like he couldn’t make the words come out right. I wonder if having a pen and paper might make it easier for him to communicate.” Nikki thought aloud, making a mental note to ask the doctors. “Hopefully Victor will be one of the ones whose use of language improves within a few months and it won’t be permanent.”
“It says aphasia is a difficulty using or understanding language. A stroke may affect an individual’s ability to speak, read and write, or understand others’ speech. Others may have trouble understanding what someone with aphasia is saying. Another challenge may be dysarthria (dis-ar-three-ah) or slurred speech. …There are two kinds of aphasia-expressive and receptive. Some stroke survivors might have both. When individuals have expressive aphasia, they know what they want to say but can’t make the words come out correctly. Individuals with receptive aphasia may not understand what’s being said to them, although they may seem to understand. In addition, apahsia can make it challenging to read, write or do math. As a caregiver, it can be frustrating to communicate with an individual with aphasia. Survivors haven’t lost intelligence or common sense. Instead, they’ve got trouble saying what they’re thinking. It’s just as frustrating for survivors not to be able to communicate effectively. Some individuals with aphasia may improve their language use within a few months. Others will have permanent language problems. Even if individuals don’t recover the full use of language, they may be able to learn to communicate effectively despite their aphasia.” “But how, how can he communicate when he can’t talk and he’s getting weaker and weaker by the day? How is he supposed to do that? How is he supposed to stay strong and keep fighting this when everything he’s done up to this point hasn’t done him a damn bit of good?”
“Communicating effectively with someone with aphasia—Use short, simple sentences. In addition, use gestures to help describe what you’re saying. Pictures might help. For example, rather than saying ‘your husband called and he will be here sometime tomorrow to pick you up and take you home,’ you could say, ‘your husband called.’(Pause and gesture as if you’re picking up the phone). ‘He will be here tomorrow.’ (Pause) ‘You can go home then.’ Stand where the individual can see you and read your lips or facial expression. If speech is restricted, ask questions that the survivor can answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Ensure you give the survivor enough time to answer. Keep in mind—it’s easier for individuals with aphasia to understand if only one person’s talking at a time. Try and diminish background noise (i.e. turn off TV or radio). Don’t pretend to understand. Be honest and say, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Let’s try again later.’ Encourage the survivor to be as independent as possible and to continue to enjoy favourite activities. While some activities may be challenging (i.e. reading), substitutions can be made (i.e. listening to books on tape).-Maybe I can get Victor to start doing that?” Nikki wondered aloud, “It would certainly help pass the time while he’s recuperating. That is if he doesn’t get tired of it and throw both the tapes and the tape players against the wall.”
After writing herself a note to ask Victor about it, she continued. “Work closely with the speech/language pathologist to improve and maintain communication skills.-If they think they’re seeing a lot of me now, they have no idea. I’m going to be very involved in Victor’s recovery; or as involved as he’ll let me be.” Nikki wondered just how much he’d let her help him through his recovery, just how big a role he’d let her play in it. “God knows he’s stubborn and how proud he is, but this isn’t the time for pride! It’s time for him to let us in, time for him to let his family help him through this!”
Just then the phone rang. Grumbling at the interruption, Nikki snatched her cell phone out of her bag and snapped, “Hello.”
“Hello, Nikki? It’s Douglas? Any word on Victor? Has there been any change?”Douglas asked completely oblivious to her black mood.
“No, not yet.” Nikki replied with a sigh before saying, “I’m sorry Douglas, I shouldn’t have snapped at you like I did.
“My dear, don’t worry about it. Under the circumstances, it’s perfectly understandable.” He reassured softly.
“Nikki, don’t give it another thought. Focus on Victor and his recovery.”He told her more firmly.
“I’m trying, I really am trying Douglas.”
“Not having much luck, are you?”
“Am I that obvious?” Nikki replied with a sigh.
“Obvious, no, I just know you.” Douglas replied softly, knowing full well what Nikki was going through at that moment despite her silence.
“All too well;” Nikki agreed with a small smile.
“My dear, these things take time. You mustn’t give up!” Douglas tried to gently remind and reassure her.
Feeling frustration bubble up in her and weariness begin to take its toll on her, she quietly replied “And I’m trying not to, I really am Douglas. But, more and more, I’m wondering how much more Victor can take, how much more can he really take? I know time isn’t on our side here and-”
“Nikki, listen to me! Victor needs you to stay strong and determined for him. He needs you to do that because he can’t do it for himself right now.”Douglas told her sagely.
“I know, I know. I’m doing the best I can!” Nikki replied running her fingers through her hair.
“I know. I was thinking, perhaps I could stop by the hospital for a visit?” Douglas asked carefully.
“Of course! Douglas, I’m sure Victor would love to see you, he’d love a visit from you!” Nikki replied, smiling for the first time in what felt like forever.
“Perfect, I’m on my way now.”
“See you soon.” Nikki replied with a smile before hanging up and turning her attention to Victor, who by this time was awake.
“Well, hi there. How long have you been up?” Nikki asked with a smile.
Saying nothing, Victor just shrugged and smiled.
“I don’t know if you remember him, but Douglas is coming by to see you.”
As Victor smiled brightly, Nikki felt relieved. “You do remember him. Good, it’ll you good to see another friendly face around here.”
Nodding in agreement, he studied her intensely.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me! Just focus on getting better, alright.” Nikki told him, reading his mind.
Though his hand wasn’t nearly as steady as he’d have liked it to be, he reached out for hers.
Taking it in her own and holding on tight, Nikki whispered firmly, her eyes never leaving his, “Victor, I’m alright! I’m just fine.”
With the other hand, Victor slowly, weakly cupped her cheek and stroked it with his thumb while tears welled in his eyes, tears that mirrored the pain that had already all but shattered his aching heart at the sight of the pain in Nikki’s eyes and the terrifying fear he’d soon be taken from her.
Finding it hard to focus on her, he closed his eyes for what he told himself would be only a moment, but ended up falling back to sleep within a few minutes.
Refocusing on her research, she continued doggedly. “Realize that survivors might not want to see friends and relatives until they’ve improved their communication skills. Respect this desire, but slowly try to increase their chances to meet with others. Most of all, remember that those with aphasia are as intelligent as they were. Keep treating them like adults. Don’t talk about them in their presence, even if they seem to be unable to understand speech. Always assume that someone with aphasia will understand and want to be a part of the conversation.”
Looking over the information on types of strokes, Nikki said, “It seems like the stroke happened near the brain stem; especially considering his breathing and heart problems, but then again, the heart problems may be because of the damage and blockages and heart attack. I don’t know! This is getting me nowhere! I need answers and, as usual, the doctors still can’t give me any!”
With her heart pounding and her hand shaking, Victoria hung up the phone and put it back in her bag. With her heart racing, she began to pace the small waiting room. “What have I done? God what have I done? This can’t be happening! I’ve got to do something; I’ve got to do something but what? What do I do?”
Trying unsuccessfully to stop the trembling that had taken over her entire body; Vicki said to herself, “I can’t let this happen, I can’t let this happen! I can’t let them go after Mom and Dad! I’ve got to do something! They’re not getting to them; I’m not letting either one of those sick bastards hurt my parents!”
“They think they’ve got me running scared. They don’t have a clue who they’re dealing with, but they’re about to find out! Enough is enough! This is war!”
“Vicki, what’s going on? Vicki, what happened?” Nick asked worry straining his voice, etched on his features.
“Nothing, I’m going out for awhile, I have an errand to run.” Vicki lied, though she hated doing it. ‘I want to tell Nick, I really do, but I can’t risk it. I can’t risk Mom, or God forbid Dad finding out about this.’
“Vicki, we both know something’s going on so cut the crap and just tell me!” Nick barked; his temper and worry getting the best of him.
“Nick please; just trust me, okay. The less you know about this, the better. I need you to stay here with Mom; she needs someone around to keep an eye on her.”
“Who’s going to keep an eye on you?” Nick asked pointedly.
“Nicholas, please, just do what I’m asking, please.” Victoria begged, hoping against her better judgement that her brother would do what she was asking.
“Fine, I’ll stay, but Vicki, tell me what’s going on. Did you get another phone call? I want the truth, Vicki; did you get another phone call?” Nick agreed before pressuring her for answers.
“Nick, just do what I’m asking, please.”
“Answer me, Vicki.” Nick wouldn’t budge.
“I…I’ve got to go.” Vicki told him without looking him in the eye as she bolted from the waiting room and headed straight for the elevator.
“Come on, come on. Damn it, I don’t have time to waste! I don’t have time to waste waiting!” Vicki mumbled as she paced in front of the elevator.
“Finally!” she whispered as the doors opened and she walked inside.
Whipping out her cell phone, Vicki dialled Paul’s number.
“Paul Williams Detective Agency, how can I help you?”
“Lynne?” Victoria asked surprised.
“Yeah, something I can help you with, Victoria?”Lynne asked surprised and a bit worried and confused.
“Is Paul there? I really need to talk to him.”
“He’s working at home today.”
“Thanks,” Victoria said as she hung up and dialled his home number.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“There’s been a new development. I really need to see you. I’m on my way to your place now.” Vicki told him as she ran out of the hospital and into the parking lot.
“Vicki, what’s this about?” Paul asked confused and worried.
“Not on the phone, I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”Vicki told him before hanging up.
“Douglas.” Nikki rose from her spot at Victor’s bedside to greet him.
As they broke apart, he turned his attention to Victor. “How are you doing?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Victor scowled and thought to himself, ‘I’d be doing better if I could do something besides shrug my shoulders and nod. When am I going to start physiotherapy, damn it! I can’t stay like this forever! I need to be able to communicate if I’m going to get out of here! I need to be able to do that if I’m going to get back to my life! So where the hell is the therapist?’
“He’s getting anxious and frustrated?”
‘Getting anxious and frustrated? Getting anxious and frustrated? Nikki, we passed that point long ago! Somebody get me the hell out of here!’Victor thought to himself as he folded his arms, scowling and clenching his teeth.
“Patience was never your strong suit.” Douglas told him lightly, knowingly. “I don’t blame you for wanting to get as far away from this place as you can.”
His eyes lighting up, Victor smiled and thought to himself as he turned to Nikki, ‘See, he understands.’
“But, you need to be careful and make sure you’re well enough, that you’re well on your way to a full recovery before they’ll release you.” Douglas told him wisely and chuckled as Victor’s scowl returned.
“Try to look at it this way, old boy, the sooner you put all your energies into your recuperation, the sooner you can go home and start planning for your new arrivals.” Douglas told him, hoping the reminder of his twins who were on their way would somehow lift Victor’s spirits.
It worked and soon Victor was beaming at the thought of having not one but two beautiful children of his own with Nikki.
Feeling the thick fog of sleep wrapping itself around him, Victor yawned and tried to ignore it, tried to somehow shake it off, but couldn’t.
“I think it’s time I go. You look like you could use some rest, both of you.”Douglas ended pointedly as he looked straight at Nikki, taking in her red, puffy eyes and the dark circles under them.
“He’ll get some rest, don’t worry Douglas.” Nikki reassured him as she walked him to the door.
At the stern expression on his face, she added, “So will I. I promise, okay, just don’t worry about me.”
Seeing Victor had already fallen asleep, Nikki walked over to the couch and taking off her shoes, laid down thinking it would just be for a few minutes, she was fast asleep almost immediately.
As Victoria started the car and peeled out of the parking lot, she said from between clenched teeth, her voice low and menacing, “You’re not going to get away with this, whoever you are; you’re not getting away with this! If you’re going after my parents, it’ll be through me! You’ll have to go through me if you want them! And that’s one fight you won’t win!”
She drove like a madwoman, completely oblivious of the other cars; heedless of the danger she was putting herself in.
Finally, and after less than fifteen minutes, she peeled into the parking lot of Christine and Paul’s apartment complex.
After ringing the doorbell a few times while tapping her foot impatiently, Christine finally answered.
“Hi Christine, is Paul here? I really need to see him; I really need to talk to him.”
“You weren’t kidding when you said you’d be here in fifteen minutes. What, did you speed all the way here” Paul asked as he entered the living room.
“Doesn’t matter. We have more important things to worry about.” Vicki told him as she paced the room, temper pumping off her.
“You got another phone call?” Paul asked carefully, hoping she hadn’t.
With a glance at Christine, Victoria answered, “Yeah.”
“I filled her in, I thought it would be a good idea to get some legal advice, a different perspective,” he told her as he sat on the couch beside his wife.
“Okay.” Vicki took a deep breath and told them what had happened.
When she was done, she turned to Paul and demanded, “I want you to put a trace on my phone at work, home and one on my cell phone.”
“Will do, it’ll take some fast talking and a few phone calls though.”
“Whatever it takes, just do it! I’m not taking any chances Paul, not a single one!”Vicki snapped.
“Victoria, I understand you’re worried and maybe a little scared, but I get the feeling that it’s not for yourself.” Christine treaded carefully.
“These two maniacs have threatened both my parents! I’m not going to let those two sick monsters get to my parents! There’s nothing I won’t do to make sure that doesn’t happen! Nothing, Christine, do you hear me?”
“I understand that, but you need to be careful. You need to protect yourself.” Christine wisely countered.
“And I am, I will. I’ll protect myself and my family, Christine, make no mistake about it. I will protect my family, especially my parents, no matter what it costs me, no matter what I have to do; I will not let anything happen to them!”
“I understand that, I wouldn’t expect anything less. But, you need to think of yourself as well. Victoria, you need to hire a bodyguard.”