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I stand outside the window of the hotel room.  France was nice, but itíll be good to get back home.  Fact is, I ran out of vicodin yesterday.  I donít want Chan to suffer because Im in pain.  It isnt fair to her.  After all, this vacation was for her.

Gazing down at the street, I wait and watch for her to come back from one last shopping trip.  I pull a chair up, and take the pressure off my back.  I donít like admitting that the bull did more damage to me than just a bruise or two.  But the truth is, I may be seeing my final days as a walking man.  I had the option before to go into surgury and undergo spinal fusion.  It seems like an archaic treatment in todayís world of advanced medicine.  After all, these are the same doctors who put my sonís heart back together with lasers.

Donít get me wrong. Im no stranger to pain.  Even as a child, I was accident-prone.  Jordan, my father, used to tell me that I was too energetic for my own good.  I insisted on going where I was told not to go.  But that doesnít change the fact that I should have left the rodeo arena over ten years ago, while I still had some bones unbroken over my career expance.  But I didnít leave.  Mostly, because I was too proud to admit that I didnít know what to do with myself. I still donít.  I have a large family that needs my attention; but not on a 24/7 basis.  My spare time is spent in front of the holovid.  Not exactly how I planned my retirement years.  I could do more ranching, but I canít sit in the saddle for more than a few minutes without it putting too much strain on me.

Our bags are almost entirely packed, weíre taking home a significant amount more than what we brought.  Gifts for everyone under the sun. I never stopped her, and I never will.  Itís what makes her happy.   Iíve seen her smile a lot lately, and it does me as much good as it must be doing her.  Iíve done a lot of wrong to her, and theres no real way for me to make up for it.

After all, how do you make it up to someone as trusting and loyal as Chan.  For twenty years, I thought she was having an affair on me.  Twenty years, I spent more time on the circuit than I ever did with my family, based soley on the supposition that she was seeing someone else, and therefore, didnít need me around to cloud up her life.  And thatís not the bad part.  The bad part came when I would go through my weakest moments, about five years after this started, I began to see another woman.   She, to me, was as pure and fine as a woman can come; with an element of vigor that I had never met in a woman before.  She was warm and loving, when I thought I would never feel that again.  I canít blame her either.  Dakota tried very hard to get me to stop the nonsense and return to my family; but I fought the idea, justifying it by telling her they didnít need, or want me around.  She took pity on me.  Sad as it is for me to admit.  The woman kept me because she felt sorry for me.

Now, I face Chan, and I don't feel worthy of her attention, much less her love.   I held another woman, many times.  Fifteen years of keeping it inside me.  Getting up, I start to pace the room.  Feeling a soft sliding sensation with every turn I make.  No, its not a nice sliding sensation, it's one that makes your stomach roll, and your breath to catch.

Finally she returns, grinning ear to ear, and I watch as she finishes packing.  She knows, I dont know how she knows that lifting the bags would end my day on the floor of the lobby, so she rings for a hop to take them to the car for us to get to the airport.  Her cheeks are flushed, and her eyes shine.  And I wish I could feel this happiness she radiates. My stomach turns again, and I sit on the edge of the bed until we finally make our way down to the lobby, and into the car ourselves.

The flight is fairly uncommentable.  Mostly nothing to write home about, and we actually arrive in Atlanta early.  From there, we take a short hop to DC, and home again.  We manage to get the bags inside without a huge incident, and take a break before unpacking.  She chatters on like an excited squirrel.  No, its not a bad thing,  quite the opposite, I'm overjoyed with her change in mood.  It was a good idea to get away.  Even now, shes wondering if we should wait until morning to fetch the kids.

I'm feeling a bit dizzy myself, so I head for the telephone, to call for a refill, and leave a message with my doctor.  Its too late for him to be in now, but hopefully, he'll get the message first thing in the morning.  Chan watches, her expression falls a bit, and I kick myself mentally for letting her overhear that. She doesn't need to be reminded of reality right now.

I head outside to the field, to check on the animals,  they've been watched by hands that ocassionally work for us during branding, and roundup.  The herd seems find, horses and dogs in check.  I begin to pick up tools I left around the barn when I remade it.  A saw here, hammer there. A fallen 2x4, so its no wonder I didnt see the bar under my feet, that kicks up my heels, and lands me square on my back.

The sensation of falling this time, isnt like any other time that I can remember.  Its slow, and I know the impact is going to finish me off.  Probably throw me in the hospital.  Once I land, I feel something  in my back give, and theres a moment when I cant breathe.  Its not that that evokes all the fear in my heart, its the fact that I just simply cant feel anything, except a deep deep burn radiating from somewhere in the middle of my back.

Laying still for several moments, stunned silent, and unable to gather my senses, I concentrate on the only thing I know to do at this point and breathe.  My head swims and I wish I hadn't ever even thought of rebuilding the barn.  I can hear pop's dogs causing a racket, but it seems far off.  I realize my eyes are closed.  Its an odd sensation to fade in and out, but thats what Im doing. The burn doesnt ever let up, and I can't call for Chan.  If I tried, it'd barely be a choked whisper.  But somehow, shes near me at one point. I hear her trying to talk to me.   Someone neeeeeeeds to call a doctor.  I would, but I cant seem to stand up.  I grapple for her hand, and try to get her attention, but Ive already got it, and she puts my own hand in her vice grip of a clasp.  I have to remind myself to breathe.   Dust, and dirt from the floor flood my lungs, and I cough, sending a whole new progression of stings and clenching pain up my back, making me wince, and groan, and cough again, which seems to begin the chain reaction.  Eventually, I lay back, trying desperately not to cough again.

I must have lost conciousness in there, because I come to feeling myself being jostled around. Hearing Chan whisper something to me, or a continual litany of something.  As  I gain more control, I understand her words.  She's praying.  Im not that bad off.  But she prays on.  She loves her God.  And right now, its about the only thing we can count on to get me out of this.  Theyve got me immobilized, I cant move a muscle or turn my head.  Im surprised Im allowed to open my eyes.  Maybe I just wish I couldn't.  It's evening, I don't know how long I layed on that barn floor, three, maybe four hours before Chan got curious.  Mostly, I feel stiffness in my shoulders, and a groggy sensation in my head.  Im sweating.  I suppose I probably should be. Im about as afraid as a man can be.

Again, I feel a shift, and I know I passed out.  I'm probably in the emergency room, but I've my eyes closed, so I can't really begin to tell, all I know is the familiar scent of ammonia and sickness surrounds me. Machines doing their job, and no, as I open my eyes, Im already in a room.  I feel suspended, and immobile.  A chair scoots on the floor, and I feel her hand on my head.  Chan stands above me, not saying anything right now. And Im glad, because Im not sure I would understand a word of it.  My confused gaze meets hers, and she forces a smile. Consciously, I dont remember what happened at this point.  Everything was so stirred up in my mind, that I couldnt even tell you my own name at the moment.  I felt like I was functioning under the blanket of pea soup.  She grasps my hand gently, and leaves it laying on... no, I dont feel a bed there.  What I can feel, is a strange..sort of electric sensation, like the surface of those old fashioned air hockey tables. I wish I could squeeze her hand, but I dont have the strength, or even the knowhow at the time to perform such a complex task.

I dont think she minds.  She tries to put on a brave face, and smile encouragingly.  Bless her for that.  It helps, as much as she refuses to admit it at this point, I still say it was one thing that helped the most.  Her presence, and her faith.

After that, it was a blur.  Most of the time I would awaken, felt very much like the first time, in all respects. I have no clue who I am, where I am, or why I ache so badly.  Sometimes, and I dont like to admit it,  I have made sounds that would send cats running.  They always occured because I just wasnt expecting the kind of torturous pain that accompanied my wakefulness.  Chan was always there.  If she wasnt, Jordan would be.  He would attempt to speak. His voice sounding garbled and nonsensacle in my mind, but he spoke softly, and it lulled me back to sleep.  She did the same, her voice much more melodic, and hypnotizing.  At times, I would simply stare at her, wanting whatever peace I could find in her voice, and eyes.

They run little experiments.  Sometimes playing music, or leaving the holovid on.  I dont think those made any real difference. It was the presence of those I cared about.  My children came and went, always briefly, and not always with a smile. If I had known at the time who they were, it would have broken my heart.  Stella and Doc Henderson.  He was there quite often, even though I didnt exactly at the time, understand why.  He spoke to me in ways I understood. Finally a breach into my muddled brain.  Explaining to me that I was floating on some kind of device that was designed to take all the pressure off my back, but my vertebrae had broken off into not only my blood stream, but had pierced nerves in my back, one crushing my  spinal cord.  Yes, theyre working very slowly to repair the damage, but it would take time. And until then, they were doing all they could to keep me comfortable.

Which is why I couldnt think straight.  Their drugs kept me so far under, that I was completely incapacitated.  This is also something I discovered at one point as I awoke.  My brain had cleared a great deal, but a crushing agony reached up at me from my back, and I cried out rather loudly, awakening my poor wife who had no idea what was going on.  She leaped from her seat, but I couldnt say anything, all I could do, was try very hard to remember to breathe.  I shuddered violently, and I heard Chan calling for help.  I couldnt believe a person could be tortured in such a manner.  Ive never experienced pain like that before. And with any luck, I'll never have to again.   I gritted my teeth, and clenched my eyes shut, every muscle tightening.  Even when the nurse ran in and cussed about missing a dose either that or she said that she had dozed, I didnt move.  Simply tried not to grasp Chan's hand. I would crush it.   She tried to calm me, speaking in her shakey voice, smoothing my hair back, gripping my arm, but it didnt reach me at the time, nothing did.  The nurse tried to get me to relax, but she couldnt budge me.  Nothing helped. I remember groaning, knowing I couldnt take more, my heart would surely bust from the pressure, and it was apparent from the sound of the monitor.  It began to make a horrid noise, that didnt make the situation any better, and I heard the voices of a doctor and another nurse running into my room.  Whatever happened wasnt working fast enough.

At this moment, I felt something I dread ever feeling again. A sinking in my chest, followed by a burning sensation that radiated into my jaw.  An ache to add on to the one I was already feeling.  My head then began to swim, and I heard them ask Chan to leave the room. I dont remember hearing her go or protest before I was relieved of my consciousness.

At times after this, I would awaken far more clear minded, and yet, unable to move more than an inch or two at best.  Even trying to speak was like trying to break through a brick wall.  They'd changed the drugs they were giving me.  Chan was very nervous at this point.  At every moment of my wakefulness, she would be highly attentive of me.  And every need I had, she took care of.  There is nothing quite so humbling that being completely helpless, and unable to do for yourself.  I was reduced to a very infantile stage.  Moreso that I couldnt move or consciously know when I needed help.  I was miserable, and tried very hard to push everyone away from me. I didnt want them to see me in such a state.

But I had no one but myself to blame for it. I had ignored my own needs for so long, that someone else was being forced to take care of them.  Finally, Chan caught on what I was attempting, and began to fight back herself. I still remember her scalding remarks. "Dammit, CJ, if you think Im going to walk out of here, and leave you in this mess, your even more of a child than the one your acting like"  Or "If you had taken care of this problem in the first place, you wouldnt be going through this."  The last said when she'd finally had enough of my stubborness and crankiness.  At the time, it hurt and made me angry, but for the exact  same reason why I was stubborn and cranky. Not because they were the truth.  I sighed and sank back into letting her do what she wanted to. I became dispondant at this point.  Not really caring about anything. I didnt feel like I was getting any better. And I certainly didnt feel like I would ever walk, or carry on a conversation again.  My attitude had reversed, in a bad direction.  Now I could tell you that it was the meds that heavily influenced how I was functioning.  But at the time they felt like very real feelings.

Chan seemed to brighten for a while, as I let her do her work, but I wouldnt meet her gaze, I wouldnt meet anyones gaze.  I would lie limp in bed, not even responding to pain, or need.  This frustrated her more than my fighting.  She tried to provoke me, but I shut her out. As I had everyone.  This did break my heart, for a time.  But I had reconciled that if I was going to die here, I would do so making sure nobody suffered from it.  It was exactly how I felt. That I would die in this hospital. I didnt see any benefit from the treatments I was given, I dont remember anyone telling me what was happening. And I barely knew anything that was going on around me.  Only that I had been lying in the bed, making a mess, and not being able to do anything to help myself.

I came around very slowly. I cant say whether it was my lack of desire to help my situation, or just the serious nature of what had happened after that fall.  I had two heart attacks. The first within minutes of the fall, and the second happened the day one treatment was forgotten for three hours.  The second being so far more serious that my treatments had to be slowed so my heart could heal. I had four seperate surguries, and only one was needed to repair the damage to my back.  The other three were to attend to the damage in my heart.