"I’m just fine, Jamie"
By R. L. Keller
"I’m fine, Jamie," Lee grumbled.
"Of course you are – for someone with badly bruised ribs and a gash the size of the Grand Canyon on his leg." Seaview’s CMO took a step back and crossed his arms. "Skipper, why do we go through this every time you get hurt? You’re not stupid." He just smiled at the brief flare of anger that crossed Crane’s face, gradually turning into a sheepish grin as Jamie continued. "You know you’re hurt, you know we’re out of danger now so there’s no need to push yourself into collapse. Why can’t you just relax and let your body mend properly for a change?"
"I can’t do my job from Sick Bay," Lee continued to complain.
"Yes, you can. Your only ‘job’ right now is to rest and heal. Now, choose your bunk."
"The one in my cabin," Lee answered, but couldn’t control the smile that spread over his face.
"Move!" Jamie practically yelled, then quickly took Lee’s arm as a wave of pain hit the younger man from just sliding off the exam table. Lee didn’t argue as he was led over and sat on the edge of one of Sick Bay’s bunks. Jamie quickly settled him in, and finally gave Lee a smile as he tucked in the blankets.
"Sorry to be such a pain, Jamie," Lee said contritely.
"Then do me a favor and don’t be for a change," growled the CMO sternly. But he spoiled the effect by letting a small grin escape again, patted Lee on the arm, and walked toward his office.
As Jamie sat down at his desk, his thoughts ran to all the times he’d treated Lee Crane since the young man took over the captaincy of Seaview. For whatever reason it was never easy. The Skipper had an incredible tendency to think about everyone else on the boat before himself. Not only that, but once Jamie finally got Crane slowed down long enough to be treated, the Skipper seemed to think that was all that was required and he could immediately go back to work. No rest time, no healing time, nothing. It drove Jamie crazy! Crane would barely be able to function and he’d be yelling to get out of Sick Bay. And if that didn’t work, the strong-willed young man would simply wait until Jamie’s back was turned and sneak out. Jamie had never in his life met anyone as unwilling to accept medical treatment as Lee Crane.
Today was a perfect example. Seaview was on her way home from a charting mission when a faulty circuit breaker caused a small explosion in the Circuitry Room that sent the submarine to the bottom. At that point only minor damage was reported. Unfortunately the damaged wiring caused some problems with maneuvering when Seaview tried to get underway. The Skipper was helping monitor the damage repairs and when Seaview suddenly tilted to port was thrown against some equipment, bruising his ribcage and ripping his leg open on the edge of some metal sheeting damaged in the original blast.
But did he bother to tell anyone? Of course not! He’d grabbed a couple cleaning cloths and quickly secured them over the jagged cut with a few strips of duct tape, continuing to coordinate repairs until Seaview was safely on the surface. It wasn’t until things had quieted down that he had finally acquiesced to the XO’s nagging and reluctantly allowed himself to be escorted to Sick Bay. Even there he hadn’t said anything about the injured ribs. Used by now to closely observing his Skipper, Jamie had noticed some awkward movements as Lee lay down to let Jamie examine and stitch the cut. Wishing he knew how to convince Lee once and for all that ‘Sick Bay’ were not dirty words, Jamie instead started making notes on the Skipper’s chart, mentally preparing himself for the battle he knew was coming.
Lee lay quietly in the bunk, chastising himself somewhat for always giving Jamie such a bad time but unwilling to admit even now that his actions had been wrong. It was his responsibility to see that Seaview and her crew accomplished their goals and returned home safely. If that meant he occasionally traded some discomfort for the satisfactory completion of an assignment, then so be it. He’d never been one to complain and he wasn’t about to start now, no matter how much Jamie, Chip, and even the Admiral ragged on him.
Lee shifted slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position on the bunk. He wished Jamie would let him go back to his own cabin. He could never rest easily in Sick Bay; could never quite relax. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes, although knowing it was hopeless to think that he’d actually sleep. But he’d try, if only for Jamie’s sake.
"Lee, what’s wrong?"
"It’s my fault, Mom. I should have been there. Then we would have won."
"You don’t know that for a fact. It was more important that you follow the Doctor’s instructions to stay inside and rest. Because of that cold, you’d have had a hard time pitching a good game anyway."
"But it was the League Championship. The last game of the season. The team was counting on me. They’ll all be mad at me for not being there."
"Guess what, young man? They’re 10-year-olds. They’ll get over it. So will you. It’s just a baseball game. Now eat your dinner"
"Sorry, Skipper. Didn’t realize you were sleeping," the corpsman apologized.
" ‘S all right, Frank," Lee said. "What’s wrong?"
"Not a thing, Skipper, just brought your dinner."
"Not really hungry," Lee replied, then frowned at the corpsman’s smile.
"Didn’t think you would be so I didn’t bring much. Here," and Frank reached to help Lee sit a bit higher against the pillows. "Good dream?" he continued, then smiled as Lee frowned again. "You were mumbling – something about a baseball game."
"Don’t remember," Lee admitted.
"Last year’s 4th of July picnic?" Frank suggested. "I thought the XO was going to nail you with the bat when you backed him off the plate with that close pitch."
"In the first place," Lee said sternly, "it was a clean inside pitch, high and tight." He paused and a small smile appeared. "And I thought he was, too." Lee gave the corpsman a mischievous grin and picked up the fork.
* * * *
Something’s wrong with the boat. Must still be a problem in the Circuitry Room. It’s way too hot in here and Lee started to get out of bed.
"Hold it, Mister," Jamie said sternly, hurrying over. "Just where do you think you’re going?"
"Have to see what the problem is, Jamie. Something’s wrong. It’s too hot on board."
Jamie’s voice softened as he kept Lee from standing, and gently felt his forehead. "The only one too warm in here is you, Skipper. Looks like we need to change your meds." He tried to push Lee back down but Lee momentarily fought against him.
"But…" he started, and his look implored Jamie to let him go.
"No buts, Mister. Well, maybe one," and Jamie chuckled, "but that has to do with your meds, not getting out of here. Now lay back down and lets check you out."
* * * *
Admiral Nelson walked into Sick Bay, not surprised to find Chip already there. It had been a wild morning but everything was under control now, and Nelson knew Chip’s immediate destination upon getting off duty would be Sick Bay to check on his CO – and friend. Nelson started to walk toward the two but was stopped by Jamie, just coming to stand in the office doorway.
"Don’t count on getting your Captain back before we get home, Admiral," the CMO said resignedly. "And maybe for awhile after that."
"Infection?" Nelson guessed.
" ‘Fraid so. That was a nasty gash, and a nasty piece of metal that caused it. Didn’t help any that he waited several hours to get treatment."
Nelson sighed heavily. "Typical Lee," he commiserated. "Chip said that even after everything calmed down it was all he could do to get Lee to come down here."
Chip heard the last part of the conversation as he joined them. "I sure wish I knew why he hates Doctors so much," he commented, running a hand through his hair. "One time when I saw his Mom I asked her if she had any ideas about that. He’s sleeping," he added to Nelson’s glance toward the bunk where Lee lay. "Well, sort of, anyway. He’s in and out."
Jamie nodded an agreement. "He’ll probably be that way for awhile as the fever grows with the infection. It’s going to take another few hours before the antibiotics kick in. What did Mrs. Crane say?"
"Not much. Oh, she’s heard enough stories that she knows what he’s like now. But said she could only remember him being sick or injured two or three times before entering Annapolis, and seemed to get along with the family Doctor just fine."
"Guess it’s just you, Jamie," Nelson teased, trying to break the tension that had been building.
"Don’t worry about it," Chip assured the CMO with a grin. "He was just as bad at the Academy." There were mumblings from the direction of Lee’s bunk and Chip turned to go back over, but Nelson laid a hand on the XO’s arm.
"No, Chip. You go get something to eat. I’ll sit with him for awhile." Chip hesitated and looked toward Lee, but Nelson gave him a slight shove toward the door.
"You’re going to need your strength, Chip," Jamie added. "You know perfectly well what a handful he’s going to be in all too short a time," and grinned softly.
As Chip reluctantly left, Nelson walked over and sat down in the chair next to Lee’s bunk. Lee was restless, occasionally muttering unintelligibly, and Nelson reached out to lay a hand on the younger man’s arm. "Easy, lad," he said quietly.
Lee turned his head in Nelson’s direction, seemingly trying to see the Admiral through fevered eyes. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"You don’t have anything to be sorry for," Nelson smiled at him and patted his arm.
"Sorry I missed you," Lee mumbled, and Nelson wondered where Lee thought he was.
"But, Mom. You know Captain Nelson’s going to be there to give a speech and present the awards. After my paper took first prize, he wrote me personally – said what a pleasure it was going to be to meet me. I have to be there."
"He’ll be really impressed if you give him the flu."
"It’s not that bad."
"Try again. I heard what the Doctor said, too, you know."
"Enough. You’re 16, old enough to know the Doctor’s right. I’ve already talked to your teacher. We both know how disappointing this will be for you, but he assures me Captain Nelson will understand."
"Well, I don’t…"
"Don’t what, Lee," Nelson asked quietly, although not expecting a rational answer from his feverish young Captain. He’d understood only a word or two of Lee’s apparent conversation. He’d have to remember to ask Lee later what he’d been trying to say.
* * * *
It was a long night, especially for Jamie. As fever continued to rack Lee’s body, it took its toll on the other three as well. Chip had returned to Sick Bay as soon as he thought he could get away with it, about 1900. It took the combined efforts of both Admiral and CMO to convince the younger man about 0130 that he needed to rest to be fit to function the next day. Nelson was a good deal harder to pry away from the bedside vigil, but Jamie finally managed it about 0300. Jamie himself had no intention of leaving until the fever broke. He hoped for Lee’s sake that it was soon. Each additional hour it ravaged the young man’s body, the longer his recovery time would be.
At first as Jamie sat watching, Lee became more and more restless, weakly fighting Jamie’s efforts to keep a light blanket over him. Jamie thought briefly of calling either Nelson or Chip back, since Lee did not seem to be responding to his pleas to calm down. Then one of the corpsmen suggested Doc go get some rest. He was on the verge of agreeing, thinking Lee might be more comfortable with John than him. But suddenly Lee stilled into an almost unnatural quiet, and Jamie was immediately concerned. It was almost as if Lee withdrew into himself. He uttered one word, "David," then went totally still.
"Lee, are you sure you want to do this?"
"Mom! How can you say that? I have to go."
"You know what the Doctor said. If you don’t stay in bed and rest that knee you could end up needing surgery. And if that happens, it could jeopardize your entrance to Annapolis in six months."
"I know, Mom. But I let the Doctor talk me out of going with my friends Saturday night. If I’d been there…"
"Just, oh, maybe I could have talked them out of doing something so stupid."
"Or you could have ended up like Dennis and Joel…or David."
"David at least would have listened to me. If I couldn’t have stopped the others from drag racing, at least I could have gotten David to get out of the car first. Then…"
"I know how close you two were. Well, here’s your suit. Do you know what you’re going to say for the eulogy?"
"Sort of. It just seems too little too late."
"It will be difficult, but you’ll do fine."
"I just wish…"
An hour later the fever broke, and the corpsman helped Jamie get the Skipper cleaned up and moved to a fresh bunk. Jamie allowed himself time for a quick shower and a bite of breakfast, and returned to Sick Bay carrying a large mug of coffee. Walking over to check his patient, he was pleased to note that the Skipper was beginning to show signs of awareness. Jamie sat down on the edge of the bunk and gently shook Lee’s arm. "Come on, Skipper, time to wake up," he said softly.
"Do I have to?" came the sleepy response, and Jamie smiled to himself. Occasionally, Lee Crane could sound more like a petulant 5-year-old than Captain of the biggest submarine in the world.
"No, you don’t have to. But I’d appreciate it, Skipper, just for a minute," and smiled wider as Lee looked up at him, hazel eyes clear of fever and pain.
"Happy now?" Lee muttered grumpily.
"Very, although why I bother I don’t know," Jamie groused back, playing the game they were both very familiar with.
It had its desired effect, and a sheepish grin started to appear on Lee’s face. He glanced at the clock on the wall before continuing. "Guess I gave you a bad night."
"I’ve had better, Skipper," Jamie agreed.
"How do you feel?"
"Like I need the license number of the truck that ran me down."
Jamie chuckled. Putting down his coffee cup, he grabbed his stethoscope and thermometer and did a brief exam. But complaints notwithstanding, Lee was definitely on the mend. "Go back to sleep," Jamie said with a sigh as he tucked the blankets back in. "You just need to rest," and he got up and started to walk away.
"Yes, Skipper?" and Jamie stopped and looked back.
"When can I get out of here?"