“Good morning Princess Consuela Banana Hammock”, my nurse says, glancing at my white board before flashing me an earnest ‘did I get-that right?’ smile.
He presses the button at the side of my bed to lift my head up and passes me a paper cup of water. “I just need to give you your tablets and a bee sting, then we’ll get you ready for your second day of rehab”.
It’s 7am and I’ve been awake for a couple hours already. With my newfound ability to sleep on my side, so long as I build a support structure of pillows around me, comes the downside of the 15-minute restructuring sessions when I need to flip myself over.
Fun Fact No. 2:
Your body has an inbuilt protective mechanism to prevent prolonged pressure, which is why you change positions approximately every hour during the night.
… that’s great for people who find it easy to move and can do it in their sleep, but not so much for people like me, for whom moving is a concerted effort. This means I wake up every bloody hour to orchestrate the one-handed pillow shift – three propping me up all down my body, two between my legs, one keeping my neck strait, one supporting my wrist, one under my shoulder – before attempting to doze off again, my body soaked in exhaustion.
I give in at around 5am and decide to watch back-to-back episodes of Curious George and Nature Cat until the ward wakes up.
Cue the nurse.
“Oh, by the way”, he says, gathering the skin at my side, poised to stab me with a ‘bee sting’. “I should have asked you this before: are you OK with having a male nurse?”
I am taken aback by the question.
“Of course,” I say, almost defensively. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well you know,” he says. “Some folks are very private about things”.
I instinctively look down the bed and notice that my gown has ruffled up again and I am lying completely exposed from the waist down. I should really keep a check on this kind of thing. Then I realize that in the next ten minutes he’ll be sticking tubes in there anyway and decide that I really couldn’t care less.
“Not me”, I say. “Definitely not private”.
My nurse looks me up and down 45 minutes later – when I am up and dressed in my wheel chair with an empty bladder, my hair protruding from my head like I’ve been electrocuted – and looks strangely satisfied with the zombie before him.
I hold up a brush with my good arm.
“Can you help me put my hair in a ponytail?” I ask him.
He looks back at me, baffled. “Oh”, he says, “well I’ve never done that one before, but I’ll give it a go”.
Ten unsuccessful, but laughter-filled minutes later, I am wheeled into therapy with a classy side pony that drops out the moment I am transferred onto the mat.
“OK Lucy,” Alison says, with the energy of a thousand suns, “today we’re going to get you moving again”.
By the end of the session I have progressed from a walking frame, to a four-point cane, to a single point cane. Although this is obviously progress, my excitement is curtailed by how difficult I find it all, and how tired it makes me. I feel as if my legs are made of lead, like I have lost my suspension, my springiness and my lower body is just a dead weight that needs to be dragged around.
“We may even be able to send you home with just an ankle brace”, Allison says triumphantly.
I look down at my feet, still covered in their mummy bandages, under which I have a plastic ankle support and a foam slipper on (because apparently one leg is now longer than the other). I cannot even comprehend the possibility of shedding all this gear and walking around like a normal person, but I didn’t think for a minute that within a few days of being here I would be walking around with just a cane, so I guess there’s hope.
After my morning of physical therapy, I am taken in for a session of speech therapy, which is ended fifteen minutes later as the therapist agrees I don’t need it, and then a session with a psychotherapist. An hour of questions, puzzle solving and memory tests later, I am told that I have a minor PTSD (no kidding) and that my thoughts are now a little disorganized which could be a result of the accident.
I laugh when I relay this to Mat over lunch.
“Your thoughts are always disorganized” he says.
“Yes,” I say, feeling smug as I chow down on a rehab turkey sandwich that wicks every trace of moisture from my mouth, “but now I have an excuse!”
If all I had to do for the next four weeks was Occupational Therapy, I would be very happy indeed. So would Mat, as we get to spend most of the session doing his favorite thing – playing board games.
Although there are a few younger people here, our board game companions are mostly stroke victims in their 70’s and 80’s. My favorite of them all is Pat.
Let me tell you about Pat.
Pat suffered a bad fall onto a coffee table at home and is now paralyzed from the waist down. She is here for rehab, to try and get some movement and sensation back in her legs, and function in her bladder before moving to a home in Idaho to be nearer to her children.
When Pat isn’t singing, she is making smart remarks, telling jokes and playing games. “I used to sing in a choir with a bunch of fabulous old birds”, she tells Mat and I as we settle down for a game of Mahjong. “We were called the snappy cats, and we would all wear silly head dresses and sing in the old folks’ homes. I plan on starting up another group like that when I get to the home. It’s going to be a blast.”
Pat’s zest for life is infectious, and her story compels me to be better, but it’s not just her, each and every new person I meet here has a story that moves and inspires me. In the room next door to me is Jenn.
Let me tell you about Jenn.
Jenn was a professional violinist who had a bad stroke at the age of 30, they believe due to stress. She is now in a wheelchair and is non-verbal. Her mum wheels her into my room later that afternoon and points to my laptop.
“Jenn loves watching Netflix, don’t you Jenn?”
She looks at Jenn, encouraging her with her head, but Jenn moves her head away, wanting so clearly to be away from this place and alone in her own despair. I can see why, but her mum never stops trying; wheeling her over to us in the family room an hour later to say hello, pointing at things on the walls and trying to engage her in her surroundings.
My heart aches for Jenn, but mostly it aches for her mum, and it makes me feel so unbearably lucky. I cry into my sleeve as she is wheeled away, pulling myself together just in time as Mat and I are joined at our table by Tim.
Let me tell you about Tim.
Tim is 35 and recovering from testicular cancer. He and his wife talk to Mat and I over dinner, his wife stroking the back of his head as he tells us his story.
“I was in the doctor’s office, getting my final test results”, Tim says, talking animatedly from the side of his mouth. “She gave me the ‘all clear’ from a cancer I had been battling for years, and we were so happy. Then, within seconds of hearing the news, the doctor left the room for a moment, and I had a massive stroke”.
His wife holds a paper cup up to his chin and offers him a sip of water. He gives her a half smile and shakes his head.
“So my wife called the doctor back in and they rushed me to ER. I don’t remember anything for the first few weeks. Then it was months in hospital as I waited to see what would and wouldn’t come back to me”.
He holds up his arm. “First it was my right arm, then I could wriggle my toes. Since I’ve been here we’ve worked hard on my speech, and now I am starting to get some sensation back in my left arm”.
There is a pause as Mat and I process what Tim has just told us.
“Do you ever just…” I say, finally, embarrassed by what I am about to ask, “do you ever just feel really sorry for yourself?”
“Of course,” he says. “But what’s the point really?” he looks at his wife, and she smiles back at him, a vision of strength and support.
“The situation is what it is, and me being miserable isn’t going to do anything to change that. This isn’t anyone’s fault, and no amount of wishing I wasn’t here is going to make any difference. It just happened, and the only thing in my power is how I decide to deal with it”. He looks at his wife again, “so we stay as positive as we can, and just take things day by day, don’t we love?”
His wife kisses him on the cheek as I sit, speechless and humbled.
What a place.
In bed that evening I clean my teeth with a bottle of water, spit into the familiar yellow bowl, strap on the boot of death, close my eyes and channel all of my energy into on not feeling sorry for myself.
Bring it on boot of death, bring it on.
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