WARNING: This poem contains some intense material. Highlight to read more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. This is heavy-duty hurt/comfort with emotional angst, messy medical details, awkward discussions of present and future care preferences, trying to take care of a traumatized person, struggling with traumatic stress, impaired consent, assisted decision-making, difficulty balancing conflicts between Turq's mental and emotional needs, complications and challenges of soup care in general, minor misfire of a superpower with unpleasant but not damaging effects, trying to figure out ways of minimizing or compensating for triggers, mentions of past abuse (current environment is safe and supportive), worrying about an injured friend, and other mayhem. On the whole, though, it's sweet to see Ansel and Ethan working so hard to take care of Turq as best they can, and despite the upsetting context Turq is actually making a lot of progress. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether you want to read this right now. However, it contains some major plot developments, so skipping it may make subsequent poems seem more confusing or less justified.
"Through Weakness and Vulnerability"
Ansel and Ethan waited at
opposite ends of the couch
for Turq to wake up. He was
healing well, as far as Ethan
could tell, but hadn't roused yet.
Ansel hated seeing Turq so limp
and helpless. He couldn't help
wondering if this was how Janie
felt when Ansel had gotten hurt.
When Turq started to whimper
and stir, Ansel cupped a hand
under his chin and then gently
tipped his face up, to make sure
that the first thing Turq saw
would be him instead of Ethan,
or worse yet, the walls.
Ansel patted Turq on the cheek,
then brushed a fingertip over
the corner of his mustache.
"Come on, Turq, wake up
and look at me," he coaxed.
Turq twitched, and his hazel eyes
fluttered open, unfocused at first.
"There you are," Ansel said.
"It's okay. You're safe."
Turq shifted and groaned.
Ansel stroked a hand through
his soft blue hair, which made him
sigh and settle deeper into the couch.
"I don't know how much you remember,
so let me catch you up," he said, keeping
his voice low and even. "You crashed into me,
and then you stopped breathing. Several times.
So I brought you into my office where it's warm
and safe, and then I called some backup."
Turq's body coiled as much as it could,
tension fighting against the lingering weakness.
He made a slightly louder sound of protest.
"I know, you don't like it," Ansel said.
"If you come to me when you're injured,
though, that means choosing to let me
take care of you. I've done my best
to balance what I think you'd want,
and what you really need right now."
Turq flinched, and Ansel guessed
that he'd noticed Ethan's presence.
"Wha ... who ..." Turq mumbled.
"This is my friend Ethan, and he's
got a hand under your left ankle
so that you can tell where he is,"
Ansel said. "You remember me
telling you about him, he's the one
who healed me after that bigot
broke a bottle over my head."
"Hello, Turq," Ethan said softly.
"I've been helping Ansel take care
of you while you're hurt. If you
need anything, just let me know."
"G'way," Turq said, pressing
back into Ansel's grasp.
"I could do that," Ethan said.
"If I let go, though, it will be
harder for you to know where
I am, and if I leave, you'll take
longer to recover. Are you
sure that's what you want?"
Turq huffed at him -- and then
noticed the IV line, which made him
start struggling in earnest, although
he was still so weak that even trying
to kick free of the afghan was like
a puppy trying to wriggle out of a sack.
"Easy, Turq," said Ansel.
"You're safe here. It's okay."
"Lie still," Ethan said, moving
his hand above Turq's forearm
so that Turq couldn't thrash without
hitting him. "You lost some blood
earlier. This is just fluid replacement,
no drugs, and it's almost done. Can
you wait a few minutes for it to finish, or
do you need me to take it off right now?"
"Off off off," Turq whined,
a panicky note rising in his voice.
"It's your choice," Ansel said,
stroking Turq's fluffy hair.
"Okay, I'll take it off," Ethan said.
"Do you want me to numb the skin
first, so that it doesn't hurt you?"
Turq hunched into a miserable lump.
"Can't," he said. "If I can't feel my body,
sometimes I lose track and it ... goes wrong."
"Thank you for telling me that,"
Ethan said. "I need to get a few things,
and then I'll come right back."
He ducked behind Ansel's desk
and rustled in his first aid kit.
The noise made Turq stiffen further,
and Ansel had to move fast to keep him
from trying to scramble off the couch.
He wrapped a hand under Turq's chin
and tilted the boy's face up again.
"Stay with me," Ansel coaxed.
Turq scrunched his eyes closed.
"I know you don't want to be here,
but that's not helping," Ansel said,
softly stroking Turq's hair.
Turq relaxed a little under his touch.
"You've got a lot of bad memories,
and I bet you've been stuffing them
down in a mental basement," Ansel said.
"So don't go down there with the bad things.
Stay up here with us where it's safer.
Come on, open your eyes and focus
on who you're with right now."
Turq opened his eyes, and while
he wasn't calm, at least he seemed
a little less panicky than before.
Ethan came back and carefully
unwrapped the wrist brace.
"Okay, the first thing I have is
a releaser for the tape," he said.
"It stinks, and it'll sting if gets into
broken skin, but it takes the glue
right off. Just hold still for me
and this part won't hurt."
Turq tensed again, but at least
he wasn't actively trying to escape.
Ethan swabbed something over
the bandage tape, and after a moment,
the tape started curling away from the skin.
"It just fell off," Turq said, amazed.
"You didn't even pull on it."
"That's what happens with a brand match,"
Ethan explained. "If you use different brands
of tape and releaser, then the glue doesn't
always dissolve completely, but it weakens
enough that it's just like peeling a posty note
off your skin, not like getting a wax job."
"Huh," Turq said. He watched as
Ethan collected the strips of tape.
"Without your skin numb, this will twinge
a little when I pull out," Ethan warned.
"It's uncomfortable, but it's not dangerous.
Get a good grip on the couch first."
It was no coincidence that the move
turned both of Turq's hands palm down
and put them somewhere that he couldn't
easily shock anyone if he panicked.
"Eyes up here," Ansel said, drawing
Turq's attention back to himself.
Ethan was gentle about clamping the tube
and sliding the needle out, but Turq still
gave a shrill whimper and a full-body flinch.
"It's okay, the pinchy feeling will fade
in about a minute," Ethan said.
"Let go," Turq said. He tugged
feebly against Ethan's grip.
"I will, as soon as the bleeding stops,"
Ethan said. "You've lost enough
blood already today, let's try to keep
the rest of it where it belongs."
Turq stopped pulling, but now
he wouldn't look at either of them.
After a minute, Ethan smoothed
a bandaid over the puncture. "All done,"
he said, and let go of Turq's wrist.
Turq immediately curled his arm
around his waist and wrapped
the other one on top of it.
When he started lifting his knees,
however, Ethan put a hand in front
of them to block the motion, and Turq
stopped short of it. "Wait," Ethan said.
"Why?" Turq said, narrowing his eyes.
"I know, you want to curl up now because
it feels safer," Ethan said. "Your breathing still
isn't fully recovered, though, and squeezing
your chest like that makes it harder to breathe."
Turq went limp with such resignation
that it made Ansel worry about him,
but Ethan knew what to do.
He picked up the forest pillow
that he'd been kneeling on earlier
and offered it to Turq. "Here, use
this instead. If you hug it to your chest,
then it'll feel like a shield, but it won't
get in the way of your breathing."
So Turq wrapped himself around
the pillow, and that seemed to help.
"Do you remember how you got hurt?"
Ansel asked. "It might help us know
how to take care of you now."
"I got stabbed. There was a fight and ...
some guys were chasing me," Turq said.
"I lost them in the woods, I think.
I don't ... remember all of it."
"Okay, you're doing fine," Ansel said.
Maybe he could teach by example; if he
stayed calm, it might help Turq stay calm.
"Every little bit is more than we had."
"Could I take another look for
those stab wounds?" Ethan asked.
"Preferably under your shirt, but
I can work over it if necessary."
Turq silently tugged on the hem,
dragging it up enough to show
a pale sliver of his skin.
"Tell me if anything hurts," Ethan said
as he slipped a hand under Turq's shirt.
"If you need me to stop, say so or
push me away, don't hit me."
Turq hunched his shoulders.
"My superpowers get snappish
when I'm injured," he said. "I
don't want to hurt anyone, but ...
sometimes it just happens."
"Ah, I found one of the stab wounds,
just a line of busy cells now," Ethan said.
"Can you tell if there's any difference
between active and passive scans?"
"I don't know," Turq said.
Ethan must have done something
that changed, because Turq flinched
and Ethan yanked his hand away.
"Are you all right?" Ansel asked.
"Close enough, but I won't be doing
an active scan again if I can avoid it,"
Ethan said, shaking his hand out.
"Yeah, um ... if you try to push
your power inside of mine, then
bad things can happen," Turq said.
"I didn't realize that's what you meant."
"No serious damage done," Ansel said.
"Superpowers take practice to learn
how to control them, and in your case,
what feels safe or threatening."
"Nothing is safe," Turq said,
tucking his chin against his chest.
Ansel lifted his hands away.
"Does that mean I should
stop petting you?" he asked.
"It seemed to be helping."
"I guess ... that part's not
so bad," Turq admitted.
Ansel combed his fingers
tenderly through Turq's hair.
Turq sighed and leaned
a tiny bit closer to him.
"Maybe not safe, but
less unsafe?" Ansel said.
"That's still progress."
"Yeah," Turq agreed.
"How's your pain level?"
Ethan asked. "I can tell that
your nerves are still signaling
damage, but I don't know exactly
how that feels to you, how much
it bothers you or not. There are
things that I can do to make you
more comfortable if you want."
Turq shrugged. "My chest hurts,
but something usually hurts. It's
just sparky, glitchy, now instead of
feeling like I can hardly breathe.
It's nothing I can't handle."
"Okay. If it's manageable, then
it's probably better not to mess with it,
given how twitchy you are," Ethan said.
"I'm used to that. I was just concerned about
your superpower tearing up your body in ways
that you couldn't cope with on your own."
"You told him about me?"
Turq said in a wounded tone.
"I told Ethan what happened shortly
after you put me in the hospital, which
was before you and I really started talking,
because I need a healer who knows about
the weird parts of my life in case something
goes wrong," Ansel said. "I haven't repeated
any details you've told me in confidence,
and only enough about you for him
to provide adequate care now."
"Which is to say, a lot less than I'd like,
but probably more than you'd like,"
Ethan said. "It's a tricky balance."
"I hate being indoors," Turq said.
"Okay, look around and tell us what's bad
about this room," Ansel said. "Maybe
it's something that we could fix."
"It's a room," Turq whimpered.
"What's bad about rooms
in general, then?" Ansel asked.
"Bad things happen in rooms," Turq said.
"Like what?" Ansel asked. "If you
can describe what we're doing wrong,
then we can do something better."
Turq just scrunched farther
underneath the afghan.
"Is the room too hot or cold?"
Ethan asked instead.
Turq shook his head.
"Is it raining in?" Ethan said.
Ansel and Turq both looked at
the big window over the couch, and
sure enough, raindrops flecked
the glass, but only outside.
"No," Turq said, watching drops
of water crawl down the window.
"When you think about being
in a room, what's the scary part
for you?" Ethan asked.
"I can't get out," Turq said.
His breathing sped up.
"This room has two doors,
both unlocked," Ansel said. "I
would've left them open, but Ethan
said the cold air would hurt you."
"Sure they're unlocked,"
Turq said bitterly.
"If they needed to be locked,
I would have told you," Ansel said.
He went to the nearest door and
opened it. "See, there's the foyer, you
recall that from the day we cleaned out
the cubbies. Here's the outer door."
He opened it to demonstrate
the access, letting in a short swirl
of cold wet wind, then quickly closed it.
"Can I just go now?" Turq said
in a small voice as Ansel returned
to his perch on the arm of the couch.
"You could," Ethan said.
"If you go outside now, the chill
will stress your lungs. That would
probably start you coughing, which
would hurt a lot. Before you decide,
think carefully about whether the gain
in freedom would outweigh the loss
of protection for your body."
Turq fidgeted on the cushions,
pulling the autumn-colored afghan
closer around his body, and shivered.
"Are you cold?" Ethan asked. "That
happens a lot when people get hurt."
"Yeah," Turq said, shifting again.
"I could go warm up a rice pack
for you," Ansel said. "Would you be
okay without me for a few minutes?"
Turq flicked a wary glance at Ethan,
but then said, "I guess so."
Ansel galloped up the indoor stairs
to the kitchen. There he found
the rosemary pack that Turq
had used before and heated
it in the microwave oven.
The piney scent of the herb
intensified with the heat.
As soon as the timer dinged,
Ansel hurried back downstairs.
"Here you go," he said to Turq,
handing him the warm bag of rice.
"I remember this," Turq said. He
stuffed most of it down his shirt, but
kept one end to cuddle against his cheek.
Turq ran a hand over the afghan,
which had a lot of texture knitted into it,
each big square a different combination
of colors. His fingers slowly traced along
the red puffs on a deep golden square.
"I don't know why you're fussing over me
so much," he said. "I'll heal. I always do."
Ethan suddenly looked so somber that
Ansel sat up straight, worried all over again.
"You are half right," the healer said,
"and it's the wrong half of that which
could completely screw you up."
"I don't get it," Turq said. "I've healed
from a lot, and I mean, really a LOT."
It made Ansel shiver, just remembering
some of what Turq had told him about that.
"Ansel called me because you weren't
breathing properly, and he was right,"
Ethan said. "It's a serious emergency."
"Yeah, when someone stops breathing,
you only have four minutes to restart it
before brain damage begins," Turq said
in a completely different tone. It sounded
like reciting a familiar lesson, and he even
seemed more alert than tense now.
Ethan noticed at once and capitalized
on the opening. "That's exactly right,"
he said. "What else do you know about
how to treat respiratory emergencies?"
"Airway, breathing, circulation,"
Turq said crisply. "If the airway is
blocked, you have to clear that first.
If you've got an airway but no breath,
then you can breathe for the person,
especially if they have a good pulse.
If the heart's not working either, then you
need to do chest compressions alternating
with the breaths. Call for help when you can."
"Fantastic," Ethan said. "That's better
than most people could manage.
Have you had some training?"
"Yeah, my fa -- my foster father Dao
is a paramedic," Turq said. "He taught
all us kids about first aid. I liked it, so
I got farther than some of the others."
"It shows," Ethan said. "Okay,
after you've got the person
breathing again, what next?"
"Keep the victim warm and quiet,"
Turq recited. "A fuzzy blanket
helps. You can talk them through
the scary parts and ..." His voice
trailed off as he looked around.
Ethan spread his hands.
"So how are we doing with that?"
he asked. "Did we miss anything?"
Ansel could see Turq struggling
to match his excellent training with
his miserable past experiences and
currently confusing situation.
"I guess ... you did good," Turq said.
"I just can't cope with it real well."
"You haven't shocked me silly this time,
so that is a huge improvement," Ansel said.
"It made my hair impossible to manage."
Turq winced. "How can you joke about that?"
"When I was a rookie, my chief taught me
how to use humor to make awful situations
seem less awful and easier to deal with,"
Ansel explained. "It really helps."
"I'm more of a gallows humor kind of guy,"
Ethan said. "You probably don't want
to hear the kind of jokes I tell."
"I really would've been fine,
though," Turq said.
"You really wouldn't," Ethan said,
shaking his head. "Regeneration only
fixes tissue damage. If you lose brain cells,
it can replace those, but it can't replace
any memories they held. The results of
that can be ... pretty horrible. I've seen
it, and I never want to see it again."
Turq shuddered hard enough
to shake the couch. "I didn't
know that," he whispered.
"Most people don't think it through, so
it's an obscure boobytrap. That's why I try
to warn folks with Regeneration," Ethan said.
"Now you know that oxygen deprivation
is an emergency for you too, so you
can take appropriate precautions."
"Okay," Turq said. "I'll be more careful."
"I still want to get feedback,"
Ansel said. "While you were out,
I had to make some decisions for you.
I tried to think about what you'd want
while taking decent care of your needs,
and that was hard to do. I'm willing to be
your backup, but I sure would appreciate
some specific instructions about what
you want or don't want in the future."
"The less the better," Turq said.
One hand crept up the other sleeve,
rubbing the striationary marks. "I know
you want to help, but ... it's not very safe,
and not just for me, for other people too."
"I figured out that last part myself,"
Ansel said dryly. "So we took what
precautions we could. We tried
to include some comforting things.
I turned down the offer of painkillers
because you were almost awake
by the time that topic came up."
Turq shifted a hand to the afghan,
tracing lines of orange on a gray square.
"Yeah, this thing is nice," he said.
"The IV really freaked you out,"
Ethan observed. "Go or no-go
on that, for future reference?
It can help a lot, but not if
it throws you into a panic."
"That's ... pretty high up on
the list of bad things," Turq said.
He was shivering again, or trembling.
Ansel knew about the medical abuse,
but hadn't told Ethan those details.
It was Turq's story to tell, or not.
"So yes or no?" Ethan said.
"It's your choice, if you can tell us.
Otherwise we have to guess."
"I don't know," Turq said.
"Okay, let's come at this from
a different angle," Ansel said.
"How would you have answered
that question yesterday? Would that
be the same as or different from
what you're thinking now?"
"Different, I would've just
said no," Turq replied.
"Then maybe you're stuck because
something we've done today is shifting
from no to maybe," Ansel said. He felt
grateful even for that much improvement.
"Yeah," Turq said with a note of
enlightenment. "I can't say yes,
but it's not as much no as it was."
He shrugged. "Sorry it's not
the answer you wanted."
"I can work with it," Ethan said.
"We just set it at a different place
on the spectrum of care than for
someone less twitchy. In your case,
that means yes only if it's needed,
and no if it's merely helpful."
Turq took a ragged breath,
his fingers clutching the pillow.
"I can live with that," he said.
"Okay then, we have made
some great progress for today,"
Ethan said. "Anything else that you
want to tell me or Ansel, we can keep
in mind for future use, but we won't
push you for more details than you
feel ready to share with us."
"I believe in you, Turq," said Ansel.
"I know you can handle this."
"Thanks," Turq whispered.
"Do you want to talk about the part
where you appeared out of thin air and
nearly knocked me over?" Ansel asked.
"I, um, can teleport," Turq said, tucking
his chin down. "When it goes wrong,
it can mess me up even worse than
the shapeshifting -- especially if I'm
spooked, so I try not to overuse it."
He waved a hand at his body.
"Turq, I know that you hate going
through weakness and vulnerability.
Most people do," Ansel said. "If you
think about it, though, it can tell you
a lot about your current situation
and the people around you."
"Like what?" Turq said, tilting
his head up to look at Ansel.
"Compare how we treat you with
how other people in the past have
treated you," Ansel suggested. "Janie
does a great job taking care of me now,
but she had to learn those skills from me.
Her parents weren't so good at that."
Turq sighed. "I miss Dao and
Mingxia," he said. "They were
fantastic. But that was before ...
everything else happened."
"Was it fantastic as soon as you
met them, or did it take a while
for you to get used to each other?"
Ansel asked. "Some people need
longer than others to warm up."
"I felt so freaking lost," Turq said.
"They really went out of their way
to make me feel at home, though,
especially when I didn't feel well."
"What was it like the first time
you got sick?" Ansel asked.
Turq actually smiled. "I hadn't even
been there a month when I caught the flu,"
he said. "Mingxia asked me if I wanted to lie
in bed or on the couch, and she let me watch
cartoons all day. At first, she drove me nuts
hovering over me, but when she noticed that it
bugged me, she backed off and only checked on
me every twenty minutes or so. She made me
Yan Du Xian soup, and that helped a lot."
"They sound like wonderful parents. It took
a little while before you got to know each other,
and then you meshed really well," Ansel said.
"Building trust takes time and work. A lot of that
comes when you're vulnerable, and people choose
to help you instead of hurt you. That's how you
learn who you can trust, and who you can't."
"So?" Turq said. He brushed his head
against Ansel's hand, and Ansel petted him.
"So think about that in the context of today.
You've known me since the end of summer,
and you just met Ethan," said Ansel. "We did
a decent job taking care of you, and I bet we'll
do better the next time you get hurt, if you
give us another chance. I hope you will;
I'd rather you come to me when you need
help instead of trying to go it alone."
"Yeah, it could've been worse,"
Turq agreed. "I've survived
a lot worse than just this."
"Do you mind if I look you over
one more time?" Ethan asked.
"I think you're doing better, but I
want to make sure before I leave.
Turq scrunched a little,
but he said, "Go ahead."
"Passive scan only, unless
you tell me I can do more,"
Ethan assured him before
running his hands lightly
over Turq's body.
"Well?" Ansel asked after
the healer sat back.
"Heart's fine already, lungs are
mostly recovered, and digestion is
just starting to knit itself back together,"
Ethan reported. "Turq, you probably
won't get hungry for a few hours,
so don't try to eat before then."
"Yeah, that happens a lot,"
Turq said glumly. "It's hard
to make up for all the energy
that I burn up fighting or healing."
"There are other ways to get
energy into your body," Ethan said.
"We can work on making those
safer for you in the future."
"Maybe later," Turq said, which
was still a big improvement
over his former wariness.
"You're recovered enough that
I can get out of your hair, and
leave you in Ansel's hands,"
Ethan said to Turq.
"I'll take care of him, as much
as he's willing," Ansel said.
"Okay," Turq said, leaning
back against Ansel.
"Ideally, I'd recommend staying
indoors overnight," Ethan said.
"And for real?" Ansel asked.
"In practice, Turq, just stay as long
as you can stand it, and try to get
some other shelter afterwards,"
Ethan said. "Waiting until after you
eat is a reasonable goal for today."
"Thanks for your help," Ansel said,
shaking Ethan's hand. "I owe you one."
"Any time," Ethan said, and then
let himself out of the room.
"So how do you want to pass
the time, Turq?" asked Ansel, hoping
that he could distract the boy enough
to buy a few more hours of shelter.
"I've got movies, books, magazines,
board games ... take your pick."
"I like your voice," Turq said.
"I don't want to be a bother, but
it's nice when you talk about things.
I think I heard you earlier, I just
can't remember all of it."
"I was reading aloud from magazines,"
Ansel said. "Would you like to choose
which one this time?" He got up
to offer Turq a stack of them.
Turq shuffled through the issues
and then handed him Dirt Rag.
"I liked biking with you."
"I enjoyed that too," Ansel said,
leafing through the pages in search
of his favorite section. Featured Rides
offered photo-essays of great trails.
He found it and began to read.
Turq shifted a little higher so that
his head was practically in Ansel's lap.
Ansel let his free hand drift down
to stroke Turq's hair again, and
Turq gave a happy sigh.
As nerve-wracking as the day had
been for everyone, Ansel treasured
these small signs of progress.
* * *
"It is through weakness and vulnerability that most of us... discover our soul."
-- Desmond Tutu
Ansel's cabin has a stone bottom and log top. See the exterior, garage floor, and living floor.
Ansel's office has a leather couch and loveseat along with a tapestry rocking chair around a large square coffee table. This is the forest tapestry pillow for the loveseat. The carpet is short tan-and-gray pile. One stone wall has been plastered over, but the other has been left bare and features a stone bench, fireplace, and entertainment center. Ansel has a writing desk with bookshelves along the front and drawers underneath, which faces into the room. The chair is brown instead of black, to match the couch. A matching computer desk with a tall hutch of bookshelves stands against the interior wall.
Here is the knit afghan from the couch. The Fall Colors pattern is free, but viewing it requires registering on the Lion Brand site. There is also a kit for sale which includes both the pattern and all the yarn it needs. Security blankets soothe people in stressful situations. Different blankets have different effects, and some people like one with a lot of texture. Ansel loves his job, but there's a reason he has a big, heavy, warm-colored, highly-textured blanket in his office. No matter how enjoyable it is, police work is still demanding and self-care is a very good idea. And yes, Ansel just let Turq borrow his blankie. It's very intimate, but that probably won't occur to Turq for a while.
There's a whole set of de-escalation skills for getting a bitey critter to let go of you, and some of them overlap with ways to wake up a person. Things like touching whiskers or blowing on the face are gentle and usually effective. The idea is to create a compelling sensation. They're also less triggering than methods such as shouting, shaking, or slapping in the case of trauma survivors.
Trauma triggers reactivate memories of bad things that happened to someone, throwing the person into survival mode. Trauma-informed care offers best practices for supporting people with various types of post-traumatic stress. It is very, very important not to trigger traumatized supervillains! Ansel and Ethan both understand this, although their skill level isn't always up to what they're trying to accomplish. Validation helps by acknowledging the person's perspective, even if it's not always practical to act on that.
Maintaining contact during bodywork or other health care lowers anxiety for clients by identifying the caregiver's location. Conversely, one effective way to discourage a skittish person from doing something problematic is to put your hand where they'll touch you if they keep trying to do the thing. They will often stop short to avoid the contact. It's less intrusive and has a lower potential of triggering someone, compared to grabbing or pushing them.
Turq's body language includes signs from the defensive, submissive, discomfort, and pain clusters. At this stage, he's trying to make himself smaller and more protected, and he's just generally miserable with the whole situation.
Total Comfort Level is a Terramagne-American scoring system for measuring how people feel when sick or injured, based on tracking individual issues. Pain, nausea, dealing with the health care system, seeing a doctor/nurse, taking medication, being stuck in bed, etc. are all common things to track. The numbers can be averaged to see the general level of comfort, or viewed individually to make sure that no one item goes too high. Similarly, effort goes into ensuring that the help given does not make one area spike while producing only mild improvement in the target area, because that can cause the person to feel worse overall instead of better. This is particularly a concern for soups, people with allergies, and people with mental challenges. Since high levels of discomfort interfere with recovery, keeping the levels low tends to improve outcomes. Generally 1-3 is the bad range, 4-6 is uncomfortable, 7-9 is okay, and 10 is terrific. Since Turq's current function is marginal at best, Ethan has reduced the complex explanation to a set of simple comparisons which make more sense to Turq in this context.
Consent is most often discussed in sexual contexts, and impairment in terms of drugs. But if you look at that standard, you can see that in Local-American medical contexts free consent is rare and people are prevailingly pressured or forced into doing things by someone with undue influence. T-America does better on average. There are different types of consent which may apply in various situations. Boundaries and consent customarily evolve over the course of a relationship, as people establish parameters and adapt to changes. Something which requires explicit consent at first may become a standard and unremarked part of interaction, like kissing for romantic couples. Some things which would not be acceptable early on become possible as more trust builds up. Even in an established relationship, however, people always have the right to withdraw consent.
Also there are many more types of impaired consent than just substances; some mental disabilities or illnesses can have the same effect. In Turq's case it's a mental injury from past abuse, which creates a broad pattern of impaired consent. That's a major ethical dilemma in medical care, because leaving problems untreated is not okay; but doing thing to people against their will is not okay and can make matters very much worse. Consent exists on a spectrum. I had found a good discussion about different types of impaired consent and the spectrum of capacity for consent,
Notice also that Ethan is more willing to take no for an answer, even if it worsens the outcomes, due to his greater experience working with supervillains in marginal situations. He just makes sure that Turq knows the drawbacks. Ansel has a more heroic mindset, and there are certain things he just won't do, such as sitting back and watching someone die. Since Ansel has explicitly stated his stance on these matters, that's okay, because Turq can account for that in deciding whether and when to associate with Ansel. Turq showing up injured constitutes implied consent for Ansel to handle that situation in the manner he has described as his standard.
Dissociation is a defense mechanism which allows people survive traumatic experiences, and in fact is taught as a method of pain control. A drawback of dissociation is that it can create a feedback loop. Turq relies on it out of habit, and hasn't fully registered that his external environment now is a much safer place than his internal environment full of horrid memories from before. A related issue is depersonalization, a sense of being unreal or disconnected from one's body. For a number of superpowers (including Teleportation, Phasing, and Shapeshifting) it can cause serious problems because control of those powers relies on an awareness of the body, so without that they may lose control. Numbness can trigger the same effects -- anything from a healer's numbing touch to local anaesthetic to a foot falling asleep. Some people can learn to work around it, others can't, which makes for some very obscure and inconvenient contraindications in medical care.
Traumatic stress can cause heightened sensitivity to pain, especially if specific types of pain are triggering for someone. On the one hand, Turq can ignore a rather appalling amount of background pain -- but his negative memories and mangled biochemistry tend to magnify some types of pain caused by an external source. His history of medical torture has left him with a very distorted perception of what should be very minor pain, because the present signal picks up echoes of much worse past events. There are tips on how to cope with triggers and how to help someone who is triggered. You can't exactly fix it, but you can prevent collateral damage, and sometimes lessen the intensity and/or duration of the episode. Also, a supportive response and safe environment help wear down the triggers over time, allowing the body and mind to heal as the survivor learns to feel that the trauma is in the past.
Behavior is communication. It's not random; it happens to meet a need. If you pay attention, it can tell you a lot about what the person is feeling and seeking. Sometimes behaviors have drawbacks. If you just try to stop the behavior, then that doesn't address the underlying need or help the person understand why the behavior is problematic, so it is unlikely to work. In order to make effective changes, explain why not to do something and offer a safer alternative that meets the need. Here is a handbook on positive behavioral supports. Right now, Turq's behavior is badly damaged due to trauma that exceeded his coping capacity. Reminding him of better options will do a lot of good.
Therapy pads use various fillers and scents to soothe minor complaints. You can buy them; this style has long sections. You can make your own; here are instructions for pads with short sections or one whole bag. Larger pads are usually divided to distribute the filling. Here is an aromatherapy wrap in forested cloth that is scented with rosemary. Turq is just starting to orient on things in the present that he finds reassuring, and recognize them when they reappear.
The more time passes, the more Turq displays open and positive body language. He's still not okay, but he's getting better with support.
Oxygen deprivation causes brain damage after about four minutes. One of the things it does is destroy memories by killing the cells that store them. Regeneration typically affects the physical body, so it can only repair tissue damage, not restore lost data. There are a few superpowers that can rebuild memories lost in that fashion, but it's extremely rare. A known failure mode of all the highly protective powers (Regeneration, Invulnerability, Super-Armor, Toughness, etc.) is a tendency for people to think they're invincible when they're not. It's related to pain as a warning system -- without the early and obvious consequences, people tend to do things that have more serious consequences.
Context-dependent memory deals with the influence of external factors on recall. State-dependent memory deals more with internal factors such as emotional and physical condition. Among the more effective methods of learning information is to ask and answer questions. The more comfortable Turq becomes with Ansel, the more Turq remembers positive parts of his life before everything went to hell. If someone stumbles over a familiar phrase or question, it can easily bring up a whole file of linked information. And once that information is active, the emotional state from when it was made also tends to come online -- which is what brings Turq into a happier and more confident mood, because that's how he felt with his foster father. You can bet that Ethan has just noted "ask Turq how he would treat the same injury" as a way of pulling Turq's head out of his mental basement.
Seeking feedback is a crucial step in solving problems. Both Ansel and Ethan are aware that they pushed some boundaries while trying to put Turq back together, because of his past abuse. They did this knowing that it might result in consequences, and they accept that as a necessary part of the process. So they make a point of asking Turq, once he's reasonably coherent, whether or not he's satisfied with the choices they made on his behalf. The more responsibility people take for their actions, the more right they have to act and the better the outcome is likely to be, because there is a correction mode in case of error. The less responsibility, the less right they have and the worse the results usually are. Turq may still hate the circumstances, but he is far more willing and able to tolerate this kind of intervention from people who care enough to check whether he agrees with their choices and accept the consequences if he does not. In this manner, their responsibility enables him to go farther than he could without that support. This is why people in positions of authority or influence need high standards.
Discussing your wishes is a necessary step in getting appropriate health care. It's not always sufficient because people may ignore them; but they can't do what you want if they don't know what that is. Ideally, include an explanation of your reasons, because some people will refrain from crossing a line if they know what will go wrong from violating your boundaries, who might not respect a simple statement of preference. Among the best resources I have found for documenting and managing care choices is the Wellness Recovery Action Plan Workbook. Print and fill out the pages you find useful, add any other worksheets or information you consider relevant, and store it in a binder easily accessible in case of emergency. Ansel and Ethan are both rather desperately fishing for this kind of information, trying to balance their urgent need to know against Turq's very limited tolerance for this topic.
Caring is a set of learned skills. Most people learn how to be caring, take care of themselves, look after their family, and help a sick friend while they are growing up. Not everyone is that lucky, though, and even healthy people tend to have a few gaps. Among the more important skills is observing someone to discover what they find helpful or irritating, and then adapting your support accordingly.
Making foster children feel welcome requires understanding what helps with trauma and what kids need most.
Chinese comfort food includes Yan Du Xian soup. They use it much the way Westerners do to chicken soup: it's what you make for someone who is feeling sick or just sad. The white pepper and ginger used in Yan Du Xian soup are warming, healing spices good for winter weather and many health complaints. While comfort foods share many physical characteristics, they are primarily imprinted through pleasant associations. Once you know how comfort foods are set, you can make mindful choices about what to "suggest" by serving healthy options at the right time.
Mingxia's choice of soup wasn't random, it was a deliberate and astute way of offering physical and mental support, along with practicing family traditions and cultural identity. It was an invitation to take part in a Chinese-American family, and it worked. Turq has a very strong imprint from that, which is just beginning to come out of hiding. Some of the more serious problems he had after that placement came from other people not wanting him to "act Chinese," a different aspect of (this link contains obnoxious ideas) the usual hostility against transracial placements. But it's not an act. It's part of his core identity -- damaged now, and incomplete, but very much one of the things that makes him who he is.
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