I can't suppress a shudder as Becky, the nurse anesthetist, places an oxygen mask over my face and begins to administer the various anesthetic medications into my IV line. The medication stings a bit as it enters my bloodstream, but it's nothing compared to the agony in my lower right side.
I feel a strange numbness - a heaviness - descend upon my limbs. I'm just about to surrender to the alluring, tugging sensation that begs my consciousness to leave my body, if only for a short time, when I feel something touch my forehead.
An amazingly strong yet delicate hand gently caresses my brow, attempting to smooth the deep lines of pain that I know are present. I hear a familiar voice. Dr. Janet Fraiser is speaking softly into my ear. I struggle to remain in this place for a moment longer in order to hear her words.
"Dr. Jackson, Daniel, just relax. Everything's going to be okay. We'll take care of you."
Thank-you, Janet. I can't tell you how many times throughout my life I've wanted to hear those very words. But, having only myself to rely on has, in my opinion, made me a stronger man.
Dr Fraiser is speaking again but this time, she's not whispering soothing reassurances into my ear. She's addressing her surgical staff. She speaks in a hushed voice, I can only assume it's a needless precaution to prevent distracting me from my inevitable slumber.
"Okay, folks, Dr. Jackson's appendix has ruptured. I know this may seem like a rather mundane operation when compared to what we normally get in here..."
The rest of her words are lost to me as my body can no longer fight the effects of the medication. I begin to drift off, my consciousness slowly slipping away from this plane of existence. I'm completely detached from my body - floating somewhere in oblivion, between this life and the next.
'A rather mundane operation'. That's what Janet said. Try telling that to the little worm-like organ in my gut that seems intent on making this linguist search for a word that's more befitting than 'agony'. I'd never experienced a physical pain like it. Even having half of my chest blown away while on Klorel's ship and being forced to drag myself, inch by inch, to a sarcophagus, couldn't compare to this level of pain.
Though, I suspect, in that particular instance, the situation involved shock masking or erasing the memory of the pain more than the actual lack of the sensation. Shock has a tendency to do that. It can steal away pieces of memories of emotional or physical trauma in an attempt to protect the fragile human psyche.
Doctors don't like this repression, at least when it comes to the emotional pain. They tend to want their patients to have all of their memories, good or bad, intact. In fact, many have provided themselves with a tidy little nest egg by helping people dredge up their long-forgotten past.
I can't help but wonder if these doctors would be so diligent in their duties if the pain were their own. What if they were the ones who, thanks to this digging, had to relive watching their parents being crushed to death each time they closed their eyes to sleep, experience the heart-breaking sorrow of having their grandfather turn his back on them, or the nightmarish vision of one of your best friends killing your wife? But, since they're not the ones forced to experience the pain, they keep digging - bringing the memories forth one by one. All the while you're crying your eyes out, they sit back in their plush leather chairs and calmly state, 'Now that you've faced the pain, you can learn to live with and eventually overcome it.' Well, thank-you-very-much, Doctor, but what do I do until then?
Sorry, I know I'm being overly critical of the Psychiatric profession. We need THOSE doctors just as much as we need General Practitioners or Surgeons. But still...
Speaking of surgeons... I reign in my wandering thoughts and concentrate, once again, on the 'mundane operation'.
Everyone was surprised to learn that my annoying stomach pains (which I have yet to admit to) and subsequent collapse after entering the briefing room to prepare for SG-1's next mission, were due to a ruptured appendix. Considering what had happened on our last mission, it was just too human, too normal, too...mundane.
When the first niggling of pain appeared, accompanied by slight nausea, I was prepared to chalk it up to an ulcer that had resulted from worrying about my grandfa...sigh...worrying about Nick.
After far too many years arguing with the man, he was finally back in my life...for less than a day. We had no sooner called a truce than he agreed to head off into the great unknown with 'The Giant Aliens'.
'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'. Perhaps that's true, but we have only their word that they are enemies of the Goa'uld. We know nothing more about them. Where did they take Nick? What are they doing to him? Are they treating him well? Will I ever see him again? What about the radiation? Do they...SIGH Yup, I'm most definitely going to have that ulcer before long.
When the pain became more persistent and accompanied by a fever, I considered mentioning something to Janet (I really did, honest), but there was just too much to be done. In the time that I was missing, or out of phase, or in another dimension, or...whatever, not only did my work pile up, but so did Robert Rothman's. I promised to help him play catch up since he had worked so hard to solve the disappearing Daniel mystery.
I finally made the decision to come clean about my possible health problems when I awoke on a gurney while being rushed down the SGC corridors towards the infirmary. Apparently, my oh-so-elegant swan dive to the briefing room floor hadn't gone unnoticed by my eagle-eyed physician.
I must admit (with only slight bruising to my sensitive male ego) to being more than a little worried when dear Doctor Fraiser began shouting out symptoms, possible diagnoses, and tests to perform. Even though more than a week had passed, she wasn't convinced that I had escaped unscathed from the radiation or the effects of the Crystal Skull we had found on P7X-377.
It was by sheer accident that, during one of the many, many, MANY tests, a nurse happened to bump into just the right spot on my abdomen, prompting a long string of Abydonian expletives to jump from my lips.
I've decided that I really must teach the Abydonian language to Janet, or at the very least, write up some sort of cross reference book for some of the more commonly used words to indicate pain. As it was, she mistranslated my curses, which were clearly intended to say 'ouch, that hurts, don't touch' to 'please poke and prod me right here'.
Janet poked and prodded relentlessly until I thought I could take no more. A sonogram, a CAT scan, and some blood work later, she finally approached my bed to tell me and my extremely-worried-but-trying-not-to-look-like-it friend, Jack, that I had (of all things) appendicitis. Relief doesn't even begin to describe the feeling that washed over me...until she mentioned surgery.
"Come on, Doctor Fraiser," I pleaded, "SG-1 has a mission tomorrow. Can't you just give me some antibiotics and we can deal with the whole surgery thing when we get back in three days?"
Janet blinked. She blinked again. She opened her mouth to speak...and blinked.
You haven't lived until you've seen Dr. Janet Fraiser at a loss for words. I might have laughed outright had I not been afraid that the pain resulting from such an act would split me in two.
It was Jack who finally broke the stunned silence. "Doc, why don't you have your staff get ready for the surgery. I'll explain things here."
Janet blinked one last time before closing her mouth and wordlessly walking away.
When the clicking of Janet's high-heeled shoes had faded, Jack began his explanation. "For a guy with multiple PhDs, you sure aren't very bright today. Didn't you listen to what the Doc said? Your appendix is inflamed - probably ruptured. Don't you know what that means?"
I'm planning to stick with my original story. The pain meds had kicked in. I was doped up. What other excuse could I possibly have for losing perspective on the situation? Just because my problem was of an Earth-bound variety, doesn't mean that there was no danger.
I listened attentively (well, as attentive as one doped-up, in pain archaeologist can be) as Jack explained the situation. As hard as it may be to grasp the concept, most of what Jack said flew over my head - I'm still sticking with the doped up story. A few words did manage to make the appropriate connections in my mind. Words like peritonitis and systemic infection. Seeing that he wasn't quite getting through to me - doped up, remember - Jack put it as succinctly as possible. "If you don't let the Doc operate, you...will...DIE!"
Okay, drugs or no drugs, that got my attention. Fifteen minutes later, I was laid out on this narrow operating room table, entrusting my life to the capable hands of Becky and Dr. Fraiser.
In an overwhelming wave, all of my senses are overloaded. Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch all converge in a rush to bid a rude welcome to consciousness. I struggle to sit up only to be held down firmly by my shoulders. I cough violently in order to dislodge the breathing tube Becky had inserted. After I take a deep breath, the tube is quickly and efficiently removed, sparking another round of coughing. When the coughing finally subsides, I'm left feeling hopelessly weak and tired.
"Your surgery is over, Dr. Jackson. Everything went well."
At the sound of Janet's voice, my eyes snap open. Well, 'snap open' might be a little optimistic. Perhaps 'groggily rise to half-mast' would be more accurate.
"You're done already?" I ask in little more than a hoarse whisper.
Janet chuckles softly before placing an affectionate hand on my chest and leaning in towards me. "You've been in here for nearly two hours, Daniel."
This time my eyes really do snap open. I stare myopically at her, trying to judge the truthfulness of her statement. The combination of my poor eyesight and the anesthetic drugs distort her image to a hazy pink and blue blur. I guess I'll just have to take her word at face value.
"Time flies when you're having fun," I croak out slightly louder this time.
"Just relax and try to get some rest," the Doctor instructs. "We're going to take you into recovery now. As soon as you've worked enough of the anesthesia out of your system and we've made sure that we can control your pain with medication, you'll be moved into your usual infirmary bed."
I close my eyes and nod, which earns another chuckle from Janet. Before her comment about 'my usual infirmary bed' can even register, I find myself back on the gurney that transports me to the recovery room.
A nurse flutters around me, busily hooking me up to various lines and monitors, the purpose of which I don't even care to guess at this point. The nurse - I look a little closer to see that it's Nurse Clark, good, I like her - takes a few notes of the various monitor readings, then elevates the head of the bed slightly before retreating to a near-by desk to document the readings in my chart.
At this point, I finally notice the figure in the corner of the room. He stands back in the shadows, almost completely blending into his surroundings. As he steps closer, I can see that he is the same man who sat with me throughout the many diagnostic tests. He is the same man who explained the situation to me in a way that my doped-up mind could comprehend and, therefore, gain some perspective. He is the same man who stayed with me until the absolute last minute before my surgery, nearly causing Janet to call the MPs to prevent him from entering the operating suite with us. This man, my friend, is here now and he's wearing the same extremely-worried-but-trying-not-to-look-like-it expression he's been wearing all day.
I must give Jack credit where credit is most certainly due. He's got his black ops stealth down to a fine art. I've been around the SGC, its infirmary, and Dr. Fraiser long enough to know that neither she nor Dr. Warner permits visitors in recovery. I've never known of anyone brave (or perhaps stupid) enough to risk incurring the diminutive doctor's wrath by attempting to break this rule...until now.
"Hey, Danny. How are you doing?" he asks in a hushed voice.
I take a deep breath in preparation to answer and quickly realize that it wasn't exactly a smart thing to do. It seems that as the anesthesia wears off, I become more and more aware of the pain of my new incision. I squeeze my eyes closed and bite down on my lip, allowing only the slightest whimper to escape, while I wait for the pain to recede.
"Daniel?" Jack's carefree façade slips slightly.
"I'm fine," I lie. "What are you doing here? Janet will have you scrubbing bed pans for a month if she catches you."
"Ah, the Doc is a pussycat. You just have to know how to handle her."
"As I said...bedpans." We both chuckle softly but mine dies quickly as the pain in my side flares. I shake my head at the concerned expression on his face, indicating that there is no need to worry. I'm fine. Even I don't buy the lie this time. How do I expect him to believe it?
"Look." Jack rests his arms on the rail of the gurney and leans down towards me. "I just wanted to stop by to say that I'm glad you're going to be okay. You had us pretty scared for a while there. I'm sure the Doc is going to give you the lecture about reporting illnesses, so I won't go in to that." He shifts his weight from foot to foot and drops his gaze to his hands that now have the bed rail in a death grip. He's obviously uncomfortable with whatever it is that he's about to say. This should be good.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, he continues. "I, uh, I realize that I've never told you how important you are to the team." He looks me in the eye. "You make sure that our military minds see not only the ultimate goal, but also the people we pass along the way. I know a lot of people would never want to be in command of a team like SG-1. I mean, just look at us. We have an aging colonel, a too-smart-for-her-own-good astrophysicist 2IC, an enemy traitor, and a geeky archaeologist."
This statement brings another chuckle and another spasm of pain.
"But, I wouldn't give up my family for anything in this or any other world. We wouldn't be the same without you."
I blink. Now I'm the one at a loss for words. We spend several tense moments simply staring at each other before I've convinced myself that this is real and not some anesthesia-induced dream.
"Wow, uh, thanks, Jack. I really appreciate it, but, uh, isn't this all just a little too emotional for an Air Force Colonel?"
My attempt to ease the tension in the room has obviously worked. Jack is smiling down at me now, laughing gently. "Nah, it's okay. You're so doped up right now that you won't remember this conversation in ten minutes, so it doesn't count."
We both laugh whole-heartedly at that, which, for me, turns out to be a major mistake. The pain in my side is now the worst it's been since entering recovery. I drag in a deep breath (another mistake), squeeze my eyes shut, and bite down on my lower lip until I'm sure I can taste blood. This time, I'm unable to stop the whimpers and grunts of pain from escaping.
I struggle to sit up straighter in the vain attempt to find a more comfortable position. Jack's cool, carefree façade has vanished completely now and the worry is evident in his eyes as he helps me by adjusting the pillows behind my back. He soon realizes the futility of our actions.
"Danny, do you need me to get the nurse to bring you something for the pain?"
I begin to shake my head no, but the pain increases a notch and the head shake quickly morphs into a nod.
"Okay, sit tight."
Nurse Clark is obviously surprised when Jack suddenly appears at her back, but the surprise is replaced with professional efficiency when he relays my needs to her. She checks my chart, fills a syringe, and heads over to my bed. As she's injecting the contents into my IV, I glance over to see Jack wave goodbye and walk out the door. It isn't long before the medication kicks in and I succumb to a deep, dreamless sleep.
A little over an hour passes before I'm moved to 'my' infirmary bed. Jack was right about Dr. Fraiser lecturing me about reporting any possible illness. She started the lecture about 15 minutes before I was released from recovery. It continued throughout the time they were moving me back into the infirmary, the 10 minutes it took the nurses to hook me back up to the monitors and take the initial readings, and an additional 15 minutes after that.
She concluded the lecture by telling me that if I had come to her when I noticed the first symptoms, the surgery would have been much easier on both her and me and I would have been released to go home after only 24 to 48 hours. As it is, I'll be spending a week in her company to allow myself time to heal and guard against any further infection.
I began to baulk at the idea of spending a completely unproductive week in the infirmary, but a glare from the dear Doctor effectively silenced my tongue.
I'm startled out of a light doze by Jack's voice. "Hey," I respond quickly.
Jack's dressed in his street clothes, complete with black leather jacket. He looks like he's just about to head home.
"How ya doin'?" he asks casually.
"Good." I'm surprised to realize how true the statement actually is. Unconsciously, I rub my hand lightly over my side, a gesture that is not lost on my friend.
He looks uncomfortable again. He's probably wondering if I remember any of our earlier conversation yet not wanting to ask in the fear of opening some forbidden emotional dam. Guys don't discuss their feelings when both of them are completely coherent and aware. It's taboo.
I should tell him that I remember. I should let him know how much I appreciate him being there for me through this, through everything that has happened over the last several years. I should tell him how much his friendship means to me, and how I see SG-1 as my family. It deserves to be said, taboo or not. I should tell him all those things - and I will...
"Did you get your hair cut?"