“Welcome to Valejo rehab Lucy. I’ll let you settle in for a moment and then we’ll be back in to remove your catheter and get you into some normal clothes”.
Phlooom. My blood pressure cuff expands to reveal a BPM of 140/ 90.
Avoiding fashion choices for three months has really been one of the upsides of this whole affair and I don’t know if I’m ready to ditch my collection of fabulous hospital gowns just yet. This is all happening way too fast.
I press the button to raise my head up, and brief Mat on what to bring in from home later this afternoon:
“Something comfy and soft, trousers or shorts with an expanding waistline to make room for my colostomy bag, loose tops that can be put on without disrupting my locked shoulder, bra’s I can fasten at the front with one hand, socks with no pictures or stitching that will bother my left foot and the biggest shoes you can find, with laces”.
An couple of hours later the nurse appears back in my room with a syringe to deflate the balloon in my bladder. This time around I am less pleased to see the syringe. I know what’s coming.
“Take a breath, and breath out slowly as I pull it out”, the nurse says, making her ‘let’s both pretend this is gonna be fine’ face.
*Breath in, breathe* “… Fuuuuuck!”
I take a moment to recompose myself as Mat bursts in on us looking proud of himself. Laying out his spoils on the bed piece by piece, he reveals a pair of XL furry Despicable Me 2 trousers, a vest top that is at least ten years old, and the enormous pants Mum insists on buying me for Christmas that live at the back of my drawer in case of emergencies. I decide that next time I will be a bit more specific.
He helps me wriggle into the enormous trousers, fastens the clasp on my first bra in two months (not ever, I’m not that weird), carefully guides the threadbare top around my neck brace / locked shoulder labyrinth and heaves me into my wheelchair.
Stepping back to admire his handy work, he nods approvingly and heads out of the room to go and meet mum.
I sit there for a while, in my over sized cartoon trousers, and stare into space, dazed and confused about what is happening to me. This is so weird. And so real.
Overwhelmed with a realisation of how much of an invalid I am now that I am out of my ‘sick person’ clothes, I lower my head into my hand and try not to cry.
After a few minutes of sniffing and spluttering, I take a deep, shaky breath and painstakingly maneuver the pair of shoes towards my feet, pushing them on using the foot rest of my wheel chair. My left foot throbs unbearably but I try to remember that this is ‘good pain’ and welcome it in.
… David … Sophie.
“You still hurt, but you’ll have to do,” I inexplicably say to my feet, looking down at the leather contraptions that now wrap around them. I wonder what the point is in the shoes at all, really. Will I ever get to use them again? They look so strange there, at the end of my legs. So alien. It’s as if each step I take closer to normal further reveals the enormity of how damaged my body really is.
“Wow, you look so… normal!” Mum says, right on cue, as she and Mat file back into my room.
They both smile at me, their eyes alive with hope, making me feel instantly better.
“Let’s take you out to explore the place”.
Mum bustles over to me and takes control of my wheelchair, steering me towards the door that Mat is propping open.
As we make our way around the maze of hallways, we pass countless men and women in wheelchairs, all smiling and wearing workout clothes. Some propel themselves with their own heels and others are pushed by friendly looking relatives. The energy here is different to the hospital, and an air of potential and optimism sits deftly balanced on top of the underlying despair, like a well iced cake before you cut into it and realize it’s some kind of gluten free nonsense.
We walk into a room marked ‘Occupational Therapy’ where staff and patients sit around playing board games, operate strange equipment and rub each other with ‘massage wands’ (for which I had previously envisaged an entirely different purpose). In the corner of the room is a fully stocked but lowered, kitchen. I realize at this moment that everybody here is in a wheelchair and wonder whether this is my life now, but the joy of this frenetic room seems to deflect away any sadness, leaving a sense of community and belonging in it’s stead.
Continuing our tour, we pass rooms that say, ‘speech therapy’ and ‘psychotherapy’ to discover a large white room bursting at the seams with workout gear, equipped with wall-to-wall mirrors, raised benches, parallel bars, exercise machines of every kind and a flight of stairs that lead to nowhere.
“Hi, Lucy?” a tall lady with brown hair draped over her shoulder walks over to us, her eyes vibrant with positive energy.
Mum points me towards her in my chair and I attempt an enthusiastic nod which turns into more of a full body bow when I remember I can’t move my neck.
“Hi Lucy, I’m Allison” she beams. “I’m going to be your head physical therapist”.
I smile back, hoping she didn’t notice the bow.
“And you’ll also have Chris for Gate Therapy – that is therapy focused specifically on teaching you how to walk again – Megan for Mat Therapy – that’s getting you moving on a mat to improve your strength and flexibility, – Lauren for Bulbar – this will focus on unlocking your wrist and shoulder – and Linda for Occupational Therapy.
“This place is amazing. I feel like I’m in the Hunger Games training centre”, I blurt, unable to mask my excitement.
“This is the gym”, she says, laughing. “Here,” she hands me a laminated square “I’ve printed off your schedule”.
9:00 – 9:30 Mat Therapy
10:00 – 11:00 Physical Therapy
11:00 – 12:00 Occupational Therapy
14:00 – 14:30 Gate Therapy
14:30 – 15:00 Bulbar
Overwhelmed with gratitude, I look at the schedule and burst into tears. How on earth would I have done all of this at home? I realise how lucky I am to be here – to have a plan, a plan to get better – and feel the relief coursing through my veins like a drug.
Allison puts her arm around me and gives my good shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“I’ll see you for your first session at 10 am tomorrow”.
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