“Sorry I’m late.” Zack rushed through the door, clipboard in hand.
He never ran late. People were accustomed to waiting when it came to health care, and he loved the surprise on their faces when he arrived on time for their physical therapy. Being ten minutes late for his last appointment of the day crawled all over him. The surly, broad-shouldered, boxing-champ look-alike currently death glaring him didn’t help.
“I was hoping you’d forget,” the man muttered, hand over his bound left knee, his dark eyebrows wrinkled at the sight of Zack.
His coworker, Matt, had told him all about this patient yesterday. Douglas Brody, detective for the City of Charleston, blew out his ACL on the job. Went by Brody, uncooperative, making no progress, all around pain-in-the-ass patient. Matt’s words. He’d tried working with Brody but insisted on passing him off after just a few weeks.
“You planning to start with the same monkey tricks as your friend or just stare me into being able to run again?” Brody asked.
Zack hadn’t realized he was staring. In certain other circumstances, Zack would absolutely stare at a man like Detective Brody. But not here and not with an ill-tempered patient. Not with any patient.
“Well?” Brody asked, his body bowing up like a snake ready to strike.
Matt wasn’t kidding about the attitude.
“They’re not monkey tricks, Detective. They’re exercises meant to increase your range of motion and strength.” Zack noted the flash of recognition in Brody’s eyes when he’d called him detective. Figured he’d like that. Brody loved his job and wanted to get back to it ASAP. He’d made that much clear enough that even a slack PT like Matt made a note in his file. Motivating factor. Every patient needed it.
“By the way, I’m Zack, your new physical therapist. Nice to meet you too, and yes, I will get you up and running again. We’ll start on the platform.” Zack walked to the raised area in the center of the room and waited.
Brody didn’t budge. Just sat there giving him the stink eye.
For someone so dedicated to being a detective and claiming readiness to get back to work, it made no sense that he wasn’t fully committed to therapy. Maybe there was some other issue here, the squishy stuff that went beyond physical recovery. Matt didn’t “deal with that shit,” as he put it, but Zack didn’t mind a challenge. Zack found that difficult patients generally had a reason. Brody was probably in a lot of pain, and the meds definitely made you a different person. He looked like a normally capable guy and, with his job and…physique, clearly physical. Suddenly taking away his ability to walk would make someone like him an asshole. Zack worked in health care; he expected to deal with people who weren’t at their best.
“We’re over here,” Zack said again, waving his new patient over with an intentionally over-the-top smile.
Brody made his way to the platform with the heavy clunk-clink
of crutches. He wasn’t even using those correctly.
“Hold all your weight up with your hands, not under your arms.”
“What?” Brody scowled, coming to a stop.
Zack stepped forward and pushed Brody’s shoulders back, feeling his whole body stiffen at the physical contact. He stood up straight and then leaned away.
“No, not leaning back. Up straight. Like this,” Zack said, nudging him forward. “Press down on your hands, using the strength of the entire arm to help hold your weight as you walk. Keeps your posture straight and you won’t pinch a nerve under your arm.”
Brody kept on scowling and clunked even louder the last few paces, but he used the crutches correctly.
“You’re welcome. Now, we’re going to start with range of motion. Face the platform, and we’ll work on bending the knee. You can use the crutches for balance if you need them.”
Brody tossed the crutches down with a metallic clang
. He grunted as he reached for the bar, slowly getting himself into position.
“Okay”—Zack moved to stand closer, eyes on the offending leg—“bend your right knee for me, please, bringing the foot toward the back of your thigh.”
Brody bent his knee, barely able to keep his balance and not even getting his shin parallel to the floor. Zack watched as Brody’s entire body trembled with the effort, face red from both pain and exertion. After already having had weeks of therapy, this was unacceptable.
“What have you been working on at home, Mr. Brody? Because you should be further along than this.”
Zack expected another scowl, but Brody didn’t look at him. He stared straight ahead and spoke low and cool.
Brody or just Brody.”
Zack knew that. Matt had mentioned he didn’t like Mr. and sure as hell didn’t like Douglas. He added a note to the file.
“Okay, Brody. It’s obvious you haven’t been doing your exercises at home. You should at least be able to bend your knee to here.” Zack reached down, and, with one hand supporting the knee, he pushed Brody’s shin up, parallel to the floor.
Brody wobbled and grabbed for support. His hand landed on Zack’s shoulder, and he fumbled with it before snatching his hand away to hold on to the platform.
It was an odd reaction, since Zack was there for exactly that reason. He’d been used as a crutch, a wall, a seat, a catcher—okay that last one could sound a little pervy—a weight, a prop, whatever was needed during a session. It was part of being a physical therapist. It was a hands-on job. About as hands-on as it got.
Maybe that was this guy’s problem. Either he had personal space issues or the idea of another man touching him freaked him out, to the point he couldn’t even do therapy. Well too bad; they had to come into some
contact, and all the female PTs were booked up.
“I’m doing the exercises,” Brody bit out as he turned and hopped to sit down. “Fat lot of good it’s done me. Still can’t do a damn thing, because they’re bullshit exercises like knee bends and stationary bike rides.” He practically snarled at the mention of them. “I have a job to do and no time to waste on a bike going no-fucking-where, so you better be smarter than Matt Whatshisface and come up with a plan, or I’m telling the department to find a new place to spend their money.”
Yeah. This guy’s issues were so much more than any phobia.
“Then you’re in luck, Brody.” Zack used his name intentionally. “I am a lot
smarter than Matt and a lot more persistent. Now get off your butt and bend that knee again. This time, admit defeat and use the crutches. Next visit you better be able to balance without it, or you’re going to have to hold on to me. Like it or not.”
Brody’s chin shot up, his glare matching Zack’s. Zack wasn’t going to back down. He’d dealt with plenty of hardheaded patients. Even if there was no doubt Brody was going to be the hardest, both in physique and disposition, Zack wasn’t budging.
“Shit,” Brody said as he pushed off the platform. Their eyes remained locked even as he grabbed the crutches and stood, just a couple of inches short of being nose to nose with Zack.
Zack looked down at him. Brody was probably used to being the big guy in the room, coming in at about six foot two from the look of it, but Zack was six four.
Take that and smoke on it, Mr. Too Much Testosterone.
Okay, that was probably more than a little childish.
“Surprised you didn’t flinch at my profanity
.” Brody put on a Matt-like snotty voice, so scary in its accuracy Zack had to bite back a grin. “Your little friend had a coronary if I even said hell.”
“He’s not my friend; we work at the same clinic. There’s a big difference. And I prefer you keep the cursing to a minimum as we do have other patients. That being said, some of this will hurt like hell
, so I personally don’t mind.”
The corner of Brody’s mouth twitched, almost like he would smile, but Zack figured the man wasn’t capable.
They ran through more range of motion, Zack showing him how he must
do this at home, regardless of how he felt about it.
And to take regular ibuprofen, keep the swelling down.
When Brody mentioned he wasn’t taking anything
for pain, saying it made him “feel funny,” Zack nearly fell over backward. He was only just
out of surgery, and without analgesia, the pain must be immense. No wonder he was being a bit of an ass.
Well, “bit of” was being nice.
Zack chided him, giving him the basic lecture about inflammation while dropping two pills in Brody’s hand and waiting to make sure he swallowed both.
They moved on; Zack skipped the easy stuff and went right into resistance and finally strengthening.
“We’ll work around the stationary bike since you made it clear you hate it,” he told Brody, “but this exercise is nonnegotiable.” He wrapped the Velcro leg weight around Brody’s ankle, the detective frowning down at him the entire time.
“No cheating by leaning on the crutches,” Zack said. “Just use them for balance and lift the leg like we did earlier.”
Brody did the first few easy enough, but somewhere around lifts five and six, his leg started to shake. The quadriceps of his left leg had already weakened. It didn’t take long for that to happen. What you didn’t use, you’d lose.
“Come on,” Zack encouraged. “You can knock out ten. Keep going.”
A crease marred Brody’s forehead, but he didn’t stop. He struggled through the last two, the effort making his whole frame shake, but he finished.
“Excellent,” Zack said, more pleased with a few simple leg lifts than he should be.
Brody didn’t look happy at all. “Pretty fucking sad if you ask me,” he said. “All I can do to manage a few lousy lifts, when I used to…” He shook his head. “It’s pathetic.”
The man had done about five other exercises prior. It was normal to wear out. Did he expect perfection every time? A patient like Brody, you didn’t ask that. He’d only get mad again and shut down. Instead you challenged.
“Well, if it’s all you can do, it’s all you can do.” Zack shrugged.
“It’s not all I can do.” Brody snapped his head up to glare. “Look at me. I’m in better shape than anyone in our department. Does it look like this should be a fucking challenge?”
No, it certainly did not, but Zack was trying very
hard not to notice. “No, but you’re recovering from a game-changing injury. You’ve got to put in the work to get your strength back. Getting hung up on being injured and throwing a pity party doesn’t help. And honestly, it doesn’t suit you.”
“No, thanks.” He let the success roll off him. He was getting Brody to want it. “You ready to try the machine? Might be easier on you.”
“No.” Brody looked forward, his jaw working like he wanted to bite Zack’s head off. “I want to do ten more of these.”
Zack waved his hand like he was welcome to try and fought off a smile of victory. He knew Brody was the type to rise to the prove-it method.
Brody took a deep breath, his wide chest rising and falling before he lifted his foot again, up and down, his legs still shaking, the effort making his face flush. By the time he reached the tenth rep, his whole body was trembling.
Zack’s inexcusably but perpetually pervy subconscious pointed out what else made a man’s body tremble like that. He promptly told it to shut the hell up.
“Good stuff!” he exclaimed, focusing on Brody’s success. “Ten more reps. Nothing pathetic in that.”
A wanna-be smile crossed Brody’s face before retreating into permanent hiding. “Better than nothing, I guess.”
“Way to celebrate success.” Zack bit his lips as the smart-ass reply spilled out. But damn, were all cops this intense? ”Let’s rest it for a bit,” he said, knowing if he posed it as a question, Brody would refuse. Better not to give him any options.
Brody crutched over to the platform and sat. Zack couldn’t resist.
“So am I smarter than Matt, or are you still shopping around for a new clinic tomorrow?” he asked.
Brody grumbled something unintelligible, shifting his weight on the platform. “Jury’s still out. I’ll let you know,” he deadpanned.
Zack laughed despite himself. The fact that the man was this
serious was funny.
“Now my injury is amusing?” Brody scowled, his voice cold again.
“No.” Zack shook his head and sat with a decent space between them. He grinned and refused to be antagonized into reacting. “Elevate it,” he said instead, motioning to Brody’s leg.
“After working your knee, you need to elevate your leg. Up here.” He patted the platform between them. When Brody didn’t move, Zack reached down and lifted it for him. Brody tensed again, and Zack bit back a remark.
The man had some serious physical boundary and mood issues. There was no doubt he’d baited Matt at every turn. But Zack was a better PT than Matt, and he wasn’t going to be played. He wasn’t going to lose this battle either. No way in hell. If it made him want to yank his hair out, he was going to get Detective Brody back up to department standards and then some. Or go bald trying.
“Better?” he asked, noticing the crease on Brody’s forehead as it smoothed out.
“’S all right.”
“Jeez.” Zack laughed again, unable to keep it all in.
Brody glowered some more, this time like he was waiting on an explanation.
“Are you always this ornery, or is it the injury, or because Matt annoyed you? You’d swear I was asking you to gnaw off your own leg.”
Brody jerked his gaze to Zack, a quirk toying with the edge of his mouth. Finally he shook his head. “It’s the knee. I don’t do sick well. Sick or injured or otherwise slowed down in any way. This”—he indicated his knee like it disgusted him—“needs to be fixed. Quick. I have a job to do, and your buddy Matt’s bullshit stretching wasn’t getting me anywhere.”
“I told you, he’s not my bu—”
“Yeah, yeah,” Brody cut him off. “Your coworker. Whatever. But this kind of workout is…it’s better.”
“So glad you approve. Because it’s time for round two.”
Zack let Brody lower his own leg off the platform and get himself up with the crutches. They went right back to work and finished up on the machines. By the time they were done, Brody had worked up a good sweat and looked ready to keel over. He’d feel it tomorrow, but it was time well spent.
“Twenty minutes elevated with this ice pack,” Zack told him, setting him up on one of the tables in a recovery room, “then you’re free to go.”
Sam B. Morgan