I am waiting in my wheelchair at the curb in front of our house. The sun warms the air around me and flickers through the branches of a tree overhead, bathing my face in sunlight and taking it away again at the whim of the breeze. My nostrils fill with the scent of moving air.
We have been waiting out here for over an hour and mum is impatient. But I’m not. In fact, I think this is the happiest I have been for weeks; to be outside, to scan the trees for the source of a bird’s song, to experience a variety of sensations on my skin.
I soak it all in, promising to remember this lesson in simplicity, of finding the joy in engaging with a stranger as they walk past – “lovely day isn’t it?” – of feeling part of something bigger than my front room.
After a few more minutes, a van pulls next to the curb, ‘East Bay Paratransit’ etched onto its side in big red letters. The door swings and a busy young woman steps out, opening the side of the van and pressing a button that slowly lowers a platform for my wheel chair.
I like riding the paratransit. Even though you are often kept waiting for over an hour, and the loading and unloading is cumbersome, I enjoy the camaraderie of it all, of being surrounded by others in the same boat.
The biggest hurdle is getting me up and down the stairs from our home to the curb every time; Mat carrying me like a child from the bed, down the stairs and into the wheelchair. I enjoy the intimacy of being carried so close, but with each uncomfortable step he takes I worry about what my sharp metal fixator is doing to his stomach. He denies it bothers him, of course, despite the angry red flesh revealed periodically beneath his T-shirt.
While we drive I watch the world go by and recall the surprise Mum and my friends had planned for me the previous evening – a private concert from my favourite acapella choir, Side Note. Performing a set in the comfort of our living room, they finished by heading up to the mezzanine level of our church to sing Andra Day‘s ‘Rise Up’ down at me in my wheelchair. As awkward as that might sound, it was wonderful, and joy radiated from my face.
The van screeches to a rickety halt.
“Kaiser Oakland” the lady hollers.
We are here for an appointment I have been looking forward to for the last three weeks. Today I am seeing my new surgeon, who will X-Ray me and tell me when I can expect to have my external fixator removed from my pelvis; plunging me from the limbo of waiting, and into the next phase of healing. It’s all been resting on this appointment.
Mum and I sit in the waiting room and make small talk with the people around us, both seemingly craving human interaction that isn’t just with each other. My hair is brushed up into a clean pony tail and I feel presentable, as if I am baby-stepping closer to normal, despite this huge, body length contraption I am sitting in and the weird, industrial themed sofa cushion I’d inexplicably bought for $2 on Amazon that props up my head.
I love the way they pronounce my name here.
“Please follow me for your X-Rays”, says a long-haired technician, beckoning mum to wheel me into the dimly lit room.
“We need to get a few shots of your pelvis dear, but I don’t know how we’re going to get you up on the table.” His eyes scan from me to the table and back again, lips pursed.
“We could go and try and find a Hoyer lift from somewhere in the hospital. But that could take a loooong time”.
He thinks some more, before opening his face into an ‘aha!’
“Julio!” He yells out into the corridor.
Moments later a smiling, Hodor of a man walks into the room, eyebrows raised.
“We need to get her up there”, the technician points at the table.
Julio sweeps his arms underneath me and gently lifts me onto the table as if I am nothing. I wonder if we can take Julio home and give poor Mat a break.
Minutes later I look at the X-Ray images on the screen over the shoulder of my surgeon.
“Wow that’s a lot of metal”, I say, “are there screws in the front as well?”
“Yes. You have two screws in your pubic bone at the front, one long screw across the back, another 7 screws holding everything in place, and a metal plate that runs across your sacrum”.
Yikes. I had no idea.
You forget, I think, that doctors, however empathetic and adept at their jobs, are just doing just that; a job. They see numerous patients a day, some in better condition than you, some in worse, so when you are given a quick rundown of where you are and what’s next and are whisked away after ten minutes with little time to ask questions, you can’t help but feel a little deflated.
“The fixator will be ready to come out soon, so we’ll book you in for surgery in ten days. Good bye”.
I had been waiting for this moment for weeks. This was supposed to be a big deal. Why didn’t he make it a big deal?
“Ten more days Lu”, mum says triumphantly as she pushes me back outside to wait for the van.
“Ten more days”, I say back, forcing a smile as my lungs expel my body to a size much smaller than when we had arrived.
“Just ten more days”.
One thought on “Chapter Sixteen: Julio, you’re the stretch!”
The story of your life as a medical patient: HURRY UP AND WAIT!
You have to be at their beck and call, but your time has no meaning to most medical profressionals. A sad state of affairs…