Cleanliness is next to Godliness
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Warning – this story carries major spoilers for the fifth season episode Meridian. You may also need a large box of Kleenex to hand!
Oh God, what are we going to do now ?
Stupid, Janet, you know *exactly* what you're going to do… organise swabs and a mouth wash, then hand Daniel a scrubbing brush and turn the water on hard. Like taking a shower is going to make all the difference in the world.
They say that 'cleanliness is next to godliness' and in this instance that is precisely the timeframe we have, or so it will seem. If you want the clinical appraisal of the same sentiment I can do that too… decontamination, deterioration, death.
By the time I get into the infirmary's shower room, Daniel's divested himself of his clothes and dutifully dumped them in the bag for disposal. He's even tied it up complete with a RAM tag. See, Colonel O'Neill ? He can follow orders, as long as there's a good enough reason not to question them.
Actually, Daniel's been a little too quick off the mark this time… because I need him to do some other stuff before he gets into the shower and he's already starting to shiver. Strangely though, he doesn't seem as shy of being naked as he usually is. Thinking it's too late for modesty perhaps.
It's always been a talking point down here. Daniel's got a good body… lean, muscular in all the right places and even the scars added over the years I've known him bring a certain something to the overall appearance. It's a shame he hides it away under those baggy BDUs all the time. I'm convinced they're a size too large, but then the rumpled look suits him so well… and makes us all want to mother him more. There are some guys that would know this and take advantage of it, but Daniel is genuinely oblivious of just how attractive he is and is all the more endearing because of it.
I pass him a few Kleenex. "Blow your nose."
He looks at me oddly. I wonder if it's because I spent so many months researching and testing different allergy meds in order that he need not blow his nose so often, or was that almost a point of rebellion to orders ? But he just sighs and then does as he's been told.
The used tissues are deposited in the bag I shove into his hand and I get him to stand still while I swab his nose and ears, dropping the Q-tips in the waste as I go.
"Now rinse your mouth out." I point to the sink in the corner. "But don't swallow," I hastily add. Normal advice when dealing with exposure cases, but it's not going to affect the outcome for Daniel. The damage is done… a little ingestion isn't going to matter.
"There's an answer to that, Jan," Daniel replies teasingly. Oh, love him, he hasn't lost that incredibly dry sense of humor… yet. I can't help but smile and it initiates the barest hint of one to flash across his features, but it's gone so quickly… I want to scream at the unfairness of it all.
When he's finished at the sink, I pass him a soft brush. "We'll try this first," I tell him as I put the bottle of soap in his other hand. "Everywhere…"
He nods solemnly and steps into the cubicle. The water's only just hot, but it's a cool room so the steam quickly obliterates my view of him. But I can hear the task being undertaken, so satisfied I keep myself busy by changing my gloves.
He's going to be spotlessly clean in places he never knew he had by the time this shower is done. Is that fitting for what will probably be his last one ? I say probably… You never know with Daniel, do you ? What's worst about this is that this ritual has nothing to do with any treatment for what's happened to him. No, this is about protecting *us*, those who are going to have to look after him in the next few hours.
Washing away any lingering radiation isn't going to lessen the terrifying effects of the dose he's been subjected to, which will have already started to manifest themselves in every cell of his body, inside and out.
He'll expect me to be gruesomely exact and forthright in the details of what will happen to him, which is kind of ironic given that Daniel was rarely completely truthful with me when he'd been hurt before. God, I'm beginning to think about him in the past tense already. But you know what I mean… not telling me how blindingly bad the headaches were after Ammonet tried to kill him… not telling me about the tremors that plagued him for days after that Unas trapper zapped him with a pain stick. The list always seemed endless, but not now. That particular inventory will be closed today.
He's too blasted quiet. For once it is blatantly obvious that he is mindful of just how much trouble he's gotten himself into. All I can hear is the soft hiss of the spray and the intermittent sploshes of water hitting the tiles as the scrubbing moves from one part of his body to the next. If this was a case of a run in with a ribbon device, where I'd be out here just to make sure he wasn't passing out while he was in there, he'd be talking to me… protesting that he was fine. What I'd give now to hear his voice, quiver and all as he tries to persuade me that he really doesn't need to be watched and that he'd be okay given a good night's sleep… in his own bed… honest.
But it's not going to come, is it ? Because he knows…
Pull yourself together, Janet Fraiser. You need to have a clear head if you're going to be of any help to Daniel whatsoever.
He pokes a wet, flushed face out at me from a cracked open door. "I think I'm done."
You can say that again, I think. Cooked, well and truly. Toast… history… yes, that's the most appropriate one. Ouch, I cringe at the line my thoughts are taking. Oh yeah, I could give O'Neill a run for his money with inappropriate sarcasm any day of the week. Comes with the job, I'm afraid… releases the tension, sometimes. But this is more a nervous reaction, I self-analyse.
Back to business… "Did you do your hair with the brush ?"
"Okay, let's check you out." I run the G-M counter over him. The reading's not too bad overall, but the meter spikes as the tube passes his forearms and chest.
"Better do yourself all over one more time," I explain as I pull what I need from the cupboard… laundry detergent. "And do your arms and chest with this."
Not thirty seconds after he's begun with the washing liquid, he appears at the door again. "This really stings, Janet." He winces, and I'm certain he's trying hard not to complain.
Looking at his reddened and scoured flesh, I give a sympathetic smile. It's not enough comfort, nothing could ever be… for him or for me; especially knowing he's going to look a hell of a lot worse before the end of the day.
"I know, Daniel. I'm sorry, but it's a more effective decontaminate."
Silently, he accepts my reasoning, ducks back and shuts the door. I've spared him the indignity of having one of the nurses do this for him, but the price will have to be that extra cycle, just to be sure, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
He knows why he's doing it and I know that being Daniel he'll be twice as thorough because it's for someone else's safety, but I am ultimately responsible for my staff.
I feel numb. If only I could be out there ordering tests, preparing medications, getting together any and all the help I could to make this situation more bearable, but the plain truth is there is nothing I, nor anyone else for that matter can do.
His body is right now going into an irrevocable shut down and not a kind one at that. From what thankfully little experience I've had of lethal radiation exposure cases, it is a particularly horrific way to go. Not that any way is good, of course and my natural instinct is one to preserve life at any cost. All my training had that in mind for however little extra time might be gained. No matter that the person is in intolerable pain, no matter that they have no control over their body, no care that their personality is trapped in a brain incapable of function, or that they are literally eroding before our very eyes. With what we're going to see Daniel endure, it is going to be so hard not to abandon my normal ethics.
But every hour, every minute, every second I keep him alive there's a chance that some miracle might happen along. I mean this is *Daniel* we're talking about, right ? The man who's conjured up more lives than David Copperfield could ever dream about. And so the morality will hold true… because where there's life there's hope.
It won't stop me thinking about it though. 'They shoot horses, don't they ?' Bad, Janet, really, really bad.
"Are you okay, Daniel ?" What a silly thing to say.
"Yeah, just finishing."
He sounds tired. Hardly surprising. I am too… just thinking about what's going to come.
This time I let him turn the shower off and give him a towel that he neatly wraps around his waist. The reading is well within acceptable parameters, except for his hands. Damn. I was hoping we wouldn't have to resort to this.
I ready a bowl for him to use something stronger, juggling in my mind between bleach and sodium bisulphate… I go with the latter. This is going to make his hands so sore, especially when his palms are already painfully scorched. Isn't it enough that he's inflicted a most agonizing death on himself without me purposely hurting him more ?
He hisses sharply and screws his face up as he dips his hands into the solution.
Oh God, Daniel, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but this has to be done.
He carefully brushes under his nails and then more gingerly does all along his fingers, the backs and lastly the palms. A sound gets past his clenched teeth. I have no idea what language the word - if it was a word - might have been in, but I sure as hell know what it meant and I find myself unable to watch anymore. And this is only the start of his suffering.
After he rinses and dries his hands, I recheck them. "Good." That's done the trick. Well, removing a whole layer of skin would markedly decrease the contamination, wouldn't it ?
I pack away the G-M counter, gather some things from the linen cupboard and move to leave the room… give the man a few minutes peace. "Here are more towels and some scrubs for you to put on." I show him the brilliant white pile as I leave them on the bench. "We'll be getting ready for you." Getting what ready ? A bed for you to die in… slowly but too damn quickly at the same time. Monitors… to show us your progress on the route to the inevitable. Salves and bandages… to cover your skin as the bloody blisters spread and eat away at you from the outside in. Cooling pads… in a vain attempt to ease the fire that will burn from top to toe. Painkillers… that likely won't do the job anywhere near as efficiently as I'd like, as your body disintegrates from the inside out. Sedatives… for when you just can't take it any more and sleep will hide from us how much you're hurting. Anything and everything we have to help the end be a little less harsh. And nothing… absolutely nothing that can make you better.
Could any of our allies help ? Maybe. As I left them, I heard Sam and Jack start to discuss with the General which of our friends technologically advanced enough to help they should try to contact.
I wish I could broach the subject of the healing device with Sam, but I'm sure that thought is already buzzing around her mind. It wouldn't be fair to put that pressure on her. I know how hard she wrestles with herself over the power Jolinar left her with. It's almost as if she's afraid that if she learns how to control it she'll find it irresistible and that even if she only wants to use it for good somewhere along the line there will be a need to utilise its darker side. Her experience with killing Seth was bad enough, accidental though it was… she had no clue how to manage the device. If she finds out what she's truly capable of - well, I'm not sure how she'll handle that knowledge.
So, I'll trust Sam to make the decision for herself, knowing that she will put aside her fears if she thinks it will help Daniel.
And there he is… standing in the doorway, looking lost and uncertain and with the light illuminating his white clothing like that, positively ethereal. I shudder at the thought.
"Hey, Daniel, come here," I call lightly, indicating to him to sit on the bed by my side. His hair is still wet, but he's brought a towel with him.
"I… I don't know if you should…" he starts as he hesitantly holds the towel out toward me, "My hands hurt."
"Sure." Taking the fluffy white cotton cloth, I try not to see the tiny splotches of blood from where he's been clutching it. I'll deal with his hands in a minute. It's more important right now to show him I'm not afraid of touching him and I gently rub his hair dry.
I find myself wondering if Sha'uri ever did this for Daniel, and am slightly appalled by the kind of feelings that are suddenly thrust upon my mind. I've seen more of this man's body than his wife ever did, but I never thought I harbored more than a clinical interest in his welfare. It is *so* not the right time for any of this. I shake my head freeing it of such nonsense and focus again on my task.
When I've finished, his hair looks the softest I can remember since he took on that military cut. He appears younger and more vulnerable than the first time he stepped into my infirmary, oddly enough on my very first day here. It seems like only yesterday that he came in covered in bruises, refusing to say just how he came to be that way. I learned later that Colonel O'Neill had been responsible, but Daniel hadn't thought like that. Even before we knew that a virus was causing the violence Daniel wouldn't believe the worst of his friend. I knew then there was something very special about him.
And almost every day since then has confirmed that in one way or another.
What this is going to do to the rest of SG-1 I hate to think. When Sam told us what he'd been exposed to and the inescapable outcome, the shock on their faces, the stunned silence, told only half of what was going on in their hearts.
I reach out and touch Daniel's arm, reassuring myself that he's still with us for a while at least. He looks worriedly down at my hand resting on him. "Are you sure… ?"
"I'm going to be treating you, Daniel." For what little good it'll do. "I will need to touch you to do that."
He nods his understanding but he still looks concerned… for me.
Sensing a treacherous tremor in my knees that threatens to drop my butt to the floor; I haul myself up onto the bed alongside him.
"What's going to happen to me, Janet ?" he asks quietly.
There it is. The question I've been dreading. Why does he have to know ? What is it about this man that his thirst for knowledge includes the grim facts of just how dreadfully he is going to die ?
"Okay…" I start at the beginning and end with, well, the end. He doesn't say a word as I talk, listening as intently as if I was giving a lecture on one of those ancient cultures he loves so much.
When I've spelled it all out Daniel's soulful blue eyes look up at me, telling me he's accepted his fate. Even if he'd known all that abominable information before he did whatever it was to get him into this mess, it wouldn't have stopped him, would it ? He hasn't said anything about what happened, but Sam told us it was a device. Knowing Daniel like I do, whatever he did was surely something heroic… something no one else was prepared to do… and likely a selfless act that saved countless other lives, including that of his team-mates.
"Thank you," he says, grateful that I haven't hidden anything from him. Grateful !
That's it. I can't leave it like this. I imagine pulling him into a hug, stroking the back of his head as he lets it fall to my shoulder. Talk about bad timing. The nearest I can allow myself to get now is to lay a hand on his shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Daniel. I wish there were something…"
My eyes meet his. Mine, I know are wide and teary, his are eerily serene, accepting of his fate.
"It's okay, Janet. Don't blame yourself, please…"
Oh, but I will… and not just me, the whole damn medical establishment for having no way to counteract what's been done to him.
We stay like that for a long moment. The infirmary is unnaturally quiet, devoid of activity, bereft of life. Rather fitting really.
Behind Daniel, I can just see into the nurses' office, where my staff are staying out of the way until called upon. Nurse Clark has come on duty, the other two are obviously telling her what's going on. She looks up and I see the tears in her eyes. They'll all know soon enough. Their favorite patient is in for his last stay.
Oh God, why Daniel ?
I give his shoulder a small squeeze and then take my hand away, consolation time is over. Everything is over. Too late for fantasizing on what might have been, Jan. I wonder if the thought ever crossed his mind ? Not now… it's not the right time… it never will be. Damn it, I have to do *something* other than wallowing in my own self-pity.
Slipping down off the bed, I give him a smile… too tight and strained, but I get one of those cute little shy ones in return and my heart nearly tears itself free.
'It's too late,' I repeat and begin to busy myself sorting some bandages from the trolley, burying my sorrow in a show of professionalism. For the first time I can remember I'm torn between needing the responsibility of being the one to care for my patient and not wanting to have to be the doctor. Today, I'd rather just be a friend. But I have a duty. My uniform dictates that it be to my country and my conscience reminds me of the oath I swore upon becoming a medic. There is something oddly appropriate about the name of that promise, given the hypocrisy of this situation. And yes, Daniel, I know it's spelt differently. But what the hell is the point in being a doctor if you can't provide a cure ?
I take a quick glance down at the long fingers curled in his lap, they're trembling and I catch my breath… is that the start ? No. Too soon, I think. That's just shock, and no doubt a bit of fear. You're not the only one, Daniel. I grit my teeth and determine not to let him see my own trepidation.
Sometimes, you just have to put your feelings aside. We all will. This isn't about us, or what we want, or need, or feel… this is about Daniel. And I'll do my best to remember that, no matter how hard today turns out to be.
Oh God, I'm going to miss him.
"Now, let's see about those hands…"
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