This morning I am finally switched to a smaller wheelchair and am taught how to manoeuvre myself in it by using my heels to pull at the ground beneath me. It is exhausting and slow going, but the freedom of being able to go wherever I want, whenever I want is game changing and makes me feel like a bonafide independent woman. I mainly use my newfound freedom to scoot into the family room for refills of lemonade. Beyoncé would be so proud.
It’s hard to believe but I’ve now been here for nearly a month and tomorrow will be my last day. As a result, Mat has arrived for a ‘care giver training day’ in preparation for his promotion to full time carer when we get home. I’m sure he must be terrified, remembering his shaking hand from the first time he administered my injection, but he only exudes confidence and excitement at the prospect. Of course.
Allison meets us in a training room containing a bed, a shower and a fake car. “I’m going to teach you how to get Lucy in and out of the shower chair”, she says to Mat, “although hopefully you won’t need to use one for too long”.
Next Mat is taught how to help me in and out of bed, how to dress me, and how to get in and out of the car. “This is an important one,” Allison says to Mat, as I sit, feeling like a bit of a muppet in the shell of the fake car. “No more lifting her in and out, and whatever you do, don’t let her hold onto the door for support. Make sure you only grab onto stable things, like the seat, or the handle above it”.
In my following session with Chris, I progress to walking up an entire flight of stairs, leading with my right leg, and walking down backwards to avoid undue pressure on my still weak left leg that now houses a $700 bespoke, carbon fibre brace. I am also allowed to walk around without a cane now, so long as I am next to Mat who holds onto my shoulder for support. It feels like a huge privilege to be allowed to do this and, despite an ever-present spectre of vulnerability, I can really feel myself edging closer to normal.
As we wait for Chris back in the gym, I feel bold enough to stand up out of my wheelchair on my own and give Mat a big hug. He holds on tightly and starts to spin me around in a circle, swaying back and forward as we dance together. It feels wonderful, and I am torn between hoping the other people in the gym can see us to give them hope that anything is possible, and worrying that I am somehow taunting them with my progress; flaunting my ability to stand up and move around so freely while they are still struggling to sit up on their own. I think I am too well to be here now. I think its time to go home.
After lunch, Mat tells me that our car has now been fitted with a new sunroof.
“Do you want to go out of the carpark to see it?” he asks.
“I’m not supposed to leave the ward,” I say, overwhelmed by the idea.
“I know,” he says, “but you’ll be with me. You’ll be safe”.
Looking pretty conspicuous in my Wonder Woman costume (today is Halloween) and neck brace, he wheels me into the elevator, through the front lobby and out to the car.
Both giggling the whole way, we arrive at the car and quickly realise I am too low down to actually see the sunroof.
“We could get in and go for a drive?” he says. “We learned how to do that today”. His eyes widen “Oooo, we could go to KFC for dinner! No one would even know!”
“Oh my God,” I say in disbelief, “we could couldn’t we?!”
Still buzzing from the nerve-wrecking excitement of being kidnapped for a trip to KFC last night, I spend the following morning having everyone sign my bright green rehab graduate t-shirt like it’s my last day at school. Mat then packs all of my drugs, bandages, cathing supplies, colostomy supplies and walking braces into a bag as I sit waiting in my chair, collecting my thoughts and trying to make sense of my month at Vallejo Rehab.
In a striking similarity to my time spent researching for my book, FOMO, my time in rehab has given me the opportunity to discover a whole new subculture, and I feel as if I have lifted the lid on a group of people I wouldn’t have known existed unless I had reason to be here. I have learnt so much about how people are able to adapt their lives to allow them the simple freedoms that most of us take for granted every day; how they use different tools to peel the potatoes, lower their stoves so they can cook for their families and take up hobbies that better suit the limitations of their new bodies.
I know it’s easy to say this on a good day, but I almost feel like the whole thing has been worth it for this experience, of being humbled by life’s survivors, of discovering this world of possibility and positivity amidst the backdrop of tragedy. I hope I can carry these lessons with me always, to recall this experience in all its ferocity, in all its difficulty, especially when the trivial stresses of everyday life start to creep back in.
Pledge for my book here: https://unbound.com/books/fomo