It took me a little time. When I first got to Alexandria, Charlie was lying in his hospital bed, blue gown and big beard, his “leg” closer to a red wood: swollen, hard and purple. His face and fingers were pale, so pale. We hugged, after almost a year, and I knew why I had come. Suddenly, I wasn’t there as a lover, I was family. I couldn’t tell if that was more, less, or just different.
He had lost a lot of blood during surgery. To get to his broken bones, they sliced through layer after layer of thigh muscle – no easy task on a touring cyclist – and in doing so, slowly sapped the juice from his body. A normal Hemoglobin level ranges between 13 and 18. Charlies was down to 5. His A negative type is apparently rare in Egypt and finding quarts of blood to pump back into him required mobilizing both the medical and couchsurfing community – networking was key to his survival.
The critical situation came to a climax one night, when finally blood was acquired. Due to his severe anemia, he had a pounding headache and roaring fever. Transfusions are likely to increase body temperature further, so for him to get the fluid he so needed, we first had to cool him down.
Blankets off, air conditioner up, a bucket of ice-water by his bed and cold compresses over any exposed skin. Soak, squeeze, lay over his arm. Soak, squeeze, other arm. Soak, squeeze, leg, forehead, chest, stomach. By the time I returned to the first compress, to re-soak it in the frigid water – it was burning hot. Five hours of this. Finally, after five hours, he could receive the blood. We turned a corner, summited a slope.
Another week went by though (and many more transfusions) before Charlie was discharged. I spent the nights curled up between two chairs in his room, and the days looking for an appropriate apartment for his recovery. Sometimes I could even snuggle up on his bed with him for a few minutes, steal a kiss when the door was closed and feel almost like a lover again.
Once I found us a place, (and a landlord that was convinced we were married – another one I tried, wasn’t), we moved into our new home. Charlies mum, Pam, was arriving in two weeks, so it was a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom affair, with a beautiful balcony overlooking Egyptian chaos. It had been a very long time since either of us had a place we could call our own, and certainly the first we had had together, so although Charlie was still suffering, and barely able to limp along on crutches, it was an exciting time. At last, we could be ourselves, share our secrets, be alone.
We grew closer through the ups and downs and once Pam arrived, our little family was formed. She flew in and soon began filling our space with love, artwork and amazing aromas. Both Charlie and I needed a mum by this point, and Pam, with her gentle, assured and practical manner, provided us all the love we wished for.
Capers, an old friend of Charlies came to visit too, and I felt relief in having other carers share the load.
Six weeks came and went, and finally it was time for me to return. When I left California, I had dropped everything – left unfinished stories, friends, stuff… and of course, Juno… so I was actually really looking forward to getting back.
By now though, Charlie and I had rekindled that passion and light we’d shared a year earlier, and it was burning brighter than ever. His brown eyes made my heart leap, his thoughts, his ideas, his ways of being, looped into mine, jumped under my skin, wove through my core and rested, sparkling, deep inside my soul. It took a little time, but we were in love again.