Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What A Clot

Lucky me I got home last night after a terminal scare. I was not ready to go back to the hospital. I imagined myself in a multi bed ward at Lower Keys Medical Center. I couldn’t stand it. I waited my turn at Advanced Urgent Care on North Roosevelt Boulevard. 

My right leg had been giving me trouble swollen and painful all day. Exercise is what it needs so I had gone walking of course and apparently that wasn’t what it wanted so I went to the clinic on North Roosevelt driven by my ever patient wife to see what needed to be done. 

It was a gloomy evening’s entertainment especially considering the original plan which called for a slow walk to Alonzo’s on the Boardwalk for happy hour fish and a mojito. Yeah well my pain and swelling wrecked my wife’s good idea of course.  It was all good after we got the news that there was no blood clot and I went home after a short moment in privatexwith the nurse who quite understood my tears of relief. I really don’t want to go back to the hospital and certainly not Lower Keys which has an abysmal reputation.  Layne was seriously thinking of driving ninety minutes to Mariners in Tavernier. Shit. I’d have gone back to Jackson South...But none of this apocalyptic thinking was necessary and I got a clean bill of health. The drive home was lovely.

I’m drinking more water and walking more steps. I’m getting my routines down and I’m learning to manage my new spaces. Friends came all day Tuesday and kept me up and chatting, catching up on the life I’ve been missing. Wednesday I go to Broga (yes!) for a restorative session, gentle moves on the mat that I will do as able.  I am excited. Then lunch with another friend. How good it is to be home. I am a lucky man ( with a painful leg). 

My boy. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Living Among The Able

Webb Chiles is a man who describes his job as traveling to the edge of experience and then taking the time to send back reports. To reduce anyone to one role in a life lived over several decades would be a disservice but for the purposes of this page today it will do. He saw me doing the same thing in rehab and pointed that fact out to me. And now he wants to know what it’s like being outside. So what is it like living alongside the able bodied?  Tough. Here’s a dispatch. 

Everywhere you look,  they are doing what you can’t. 

You can look through the imperfect windshield of the car (which you can no longer drive) and watch them being: 

They walk, they bicycle, they run, you hobble. See the handicapped sign behind me? I qualify. 

My wife is heroic. She manages my life. She clears my path. She makes being a cripple possible.  Without her I don’t know how I’d cope. You wouldn’t be reading this page for a start. But she also has to hear me cry out with frustration when I pee and miss the bowl. I got good at it in Room 508 in rehab but here the bowl is different. I have to relearn. Easier to pee in a bottle.  Guess who empties it? That’s right. You can’t carry anything when you walk with a walker. Chuck offered me a pink basket to hang off the front. I was half tempted. 

He came by and stepped in to help Darnell assemble my shower bench.  Layne who is shameless and brilliant because of it, asked Darnell to assemble the contents of the box so he got his toolbox, she gave him a second beer and with my advice he assembled it backwards. Hmf. This is some IKEA shit Darnell grunted. By the time Chuck got involved my wheelchair and I were shunted into the background and the two geniuses assembled it wrong a second time. I was on the Percocet Express still and a beer didn’t help. How is it backwards I argued, bored by the drill and the bolts and the mistakes. 

Because, my wife said, if you sat on the bench with the backrest this way you’d have your back to the shower. Unarguable. So Darnell got the drill out for the third time, Chuck held the erection and the rest of us watched as Rusty snored.  Ha my wife said. Michael thought we could assemble this sitting up on the bed. 

The doors are too narrow for my chair. I have to walk which is good for me but hard work. The furniture is low which is hard work for me but I suppose it’s good. The terrazzo  tile floor jangles my nerves but I am coping. Where to wash is awkward but maybe a bowl on the kitchen counter will work in the long term. If you leave your phone on the couch arm I can’t sit down. I need to hold the the couch arm before I lower myself. A phone would slide my hand off into space and I would fall. So small a detail. The night stand can’t be up against the wall. I can’t reach it if it is. On and on.

Like Webb I am not a single note symphony. I am more than a cripple. But my dispatches must come from the edge of experience and right now my experience is right here. And yes, members of the public where we went walking around Higgs Beach were properly deferential and helpful. I have to get used to the notion that sometimes I can’t. Can’t do things. Thanks to the guy in the truck who helped fold and put away my chair in the trunk while I sat lording it in the passenger seat. Thanks to my wife for encouraging me to walk. To test my limits. To feel the burn.

Plus she cooks cleans and organizes my pills. I am a lucky man. But it’s still hard being out in the world. 

It isn’t easy being handicapped but if you have to do it you do.  Ignore them Webb says. He’s right I just keep pressing on. Good advice from a dear friend who cares and has the courage to express it. He makes me feel silly for worrying how I am perceived. As long as I don’t fall I’m doing okay.  Peanut gallery be damned. Thank you Webb. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day

Key West

The day started like every other day had started since September 14th. Woken at five for a blood pressure reading.  Woken at 6:15 for the shift change to be announced “Hi! I’m your nurse!” Bright eyed and bushy tailed and the day’s phone numbers recorded on the board. 

Woken at 7:45 with the breakfast tray. Variations on sausage patties scrambled eggs and pancakes or whatever I’d ordered. They do pretty much what you ask. Breakfast eaten I’d normally ring for the RNT or Rehab Nurse Technician aka “Nurse’s Aide” and ask her to pull clean shorts from the drawer and set my wheelchair next to the bed. Then I’d wash.  Yesterday my wife helped me to the chair and on I went washing etc. (No help needed. Ahem!). 

Then instead of getting wheeled off to Occupational Therapy at nine I sat back and phoned the nurse to clean and dress my one open incision one last time. That done I sat in bed out of my wife’s way while she loaded the last of my stuff in the car.

The van arrived at eleven fifteen and my papers were cleared fifteen minutes later. Chief Donie Lee dropped by much to my astonishment and shook my hand. A friend of the department Rick had put his personal lift van at my disposal and once settled off we went after saying good bye to the chief and another senior officer.  KWPD has been very very good to me, a lowly civilian dispatcher. The van ride was delightfully comfortable and I enjoyed the trip including the portion where I fell asleep in my leather captains chair. 

Finally, after Rick bought me lunch which was nice as I had neither money nor ID, we reached the Keys and I saw how close I was coming to home. 

We passed by my house where my buddy was keeping guard. He leapt into the van and we made our acquaintance fresh as Rick pressed on, passing the scene of my wreck which flashed by too fast for me to notice or care.  Thank God. 

Allow me to complete the day’s events in pictures. Ironically this apartment is identical to the one I stayed in after Hurricane Irma wrecked the town and I got a night off in a real bed with a shower and peace. And here I was again in a refuge. This time I knew it was Rick I had to thank so I did. And we settled in, all three of us. 

A happy ending. A new beginning.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The End

Today is my last full day in rehab at Encompass Health. In the afternoon my wife will arrive, without Rusty and will pack my belongings in the car. Tomorrow the van comes to take me to Key West. It is over.  From here on I do it myself. I’ll have some outpatient therapy but at home I shall be alone in a borrowed accessible apartment in New Town strengthening myself and learning to be truly independent. I am a success story. 

This is the photo that will adorn my poster on the corridor wall. “When 911 Calls 911”. From left Giselle my caseworker, Elias Occupational Therapist, Natalie my Transporter ( in green), Eddy Physical Therapist with my hand on his shoulder, and three invaluable students in brown, Hayley, Christian and Courtney. On the stairs standing next to me is my physician Dr Kushner. What a crew.  And they are nice enough to tell me they will miss me and my sense of humor and good cheer. It’s been a great experience and I have learned so much about myself and what matters in life.

Dr Kushner fought tooth and nail to get me in the facility and he promised even in my wrecked state they could repair me and they have. Always upbeat always ready to deal with whatever circumstance or insurance threw my way... he kept me going and gave me the time to flourish. 

Eddy my rock, my cheerleader, my friend, my Physical Therapist. He never gave up on me as I struggled with my weight bearing issues and my lack of coordination. I hope he does come to the Keys. 

Sweet easy going Elias my Occupational Therapist responsible for my upper body and training me to dress and use the toilet. He massaged my swollen leg back to health and enabled me to bend it and use it despite the atrophy.

Eddie training Hayley and Christian how to pick up heavy patients. Notice Christian’s knees between Hayley’s  and her arms all the way round his back. They dread falls more than anything. A patient falls and they fail.  This is how they pick you up when you are a bedridden lump. 

Loren on the right went on vacation before the group photo. She is as smart as she is pretty and we had lots of discussions and even though I am an asshole I am her asshole. I think she has a bright future. Especially if she trusts her own judgment. 

Sweet Natalie in the foreground, the one who best supported my leg when in a brace. Sexy Ketty my favorite nurse’s aide who has promised in principle to elope to Montana with me. Below is Natalie holding my leg in the Hoyer Lift. The possibilities for pain were endless except with Natalie holding it. The best leg holder, no small thing. 

The Hoyer Lift came up a lot this week as we reminisced about how battered I was when I first arrived. All I had was the use of my right arm. Consequently they had to lift me out of bed with a crane. Sosa and Elias. 

I couldn’t even sit up in the wheelchair at first. Sosa (Alejandro) was an orthopedic doctor in Cuba.  Here has two jobs as Rehab Nurse Technician in two facilities and is glad to be in the US like so many of his colleagues in this hospital. There is a whole squadron of highly trained Cuban  doctors here.

So many people, the food service workers who greet me with a smile and a hug and the cleaning lady who tells me about her dog as she pets Rusty. I will miss them all. Except those who will go on sticking by me in the next part of this ordeal: 

Never missed a beat.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Slipping Away

Saturday morning at eleven o’clock a van from Key West will be here to pick me up and take me back to the city where an apartment without steps is available for me for the next month. I will be in the city where if I need help my friends will be answering 911. I have been discussing all eventualities with my therapists and feel reasonably confident I can cope with showering and dressing and strengthening my legs by walking.

I have my tools to get dressed, I have my tools to go to the toilet and I have my tools for propulsion. I know how to use them.  All that is left is to get stronger then I cast them off. It’s time to go. 

I am healthy and ready and I know the good things to come, being with Layne and hopefully being able to help not hinder. To have Rusty alongside daily. To be in the world and yet I have a heavy heart. These people gave me back my life. They never gave up on me. They took me when I couldn’t sit up in bed and made me whole.  Along the way I have cracked jokes and devoted myself to completing the exercises. I am sorry to be going. I know it sounds odd but going home fills me with fear.  

Loren is away on vacation and we struggled to hold back tears as we said goodbye. Eddy is off tomorrow so he and I won’t work together again. He got my legs working against the odds and against my natural absence of coordination.  He too will be gone forever as soon as I write this. 

Natalie and her Bucci will be no more, perfectly sweet strong Cuban coffee to start each afternoon session. Soon I will be among the able bodied stumping to keep up.  Going home? They say. Lucky you! I suppose so I say. It must be good because I am getting better.  That doesn’t ease the heartbreak.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

At Sunset

I fear I am become institutionalized inside the walls of rehab. I have three or four days left until I have to face the outside world this weekend. This is my 54th day learning to cope with half a body and already in the gym a gulf exists between myself and the other patients. Not only are they all new faces but they also cannot relate to me as they see me, no longer visibly broken, lifting weights and climbing stairs. I am alien in my own gym! 

I am far removed from the lump barely able to sit up in a wheelchair unable to propel myself or bend my braced leg. Today Eddy banished my wheelchair after watching me push my walker from my room to the gym, at least a ten minute walk at my slow lumbering pace through the endless corridors. 

He looked at me did Eddy as though challenging me and said no more wheelchair. I must have looked horrified as he said I’m serious. And left me standing in the middle of the gym with only the walker. I did some leg exercisess and walked back to my room. My right leg aches as I stepped ever more clumsily down the corridor, the endless corridor. 

And so my wheels are put away. I sat in a regular armchair wondering how hard it would be to get up ( a little hard). Now I no longer have the rolling chair I miss the comfort of rolling, the ease of sitting, the security of being able to stop anywhere and rest. Now I have to walk. May I have many walks left in me. 

I enjoy listening from time to time to Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs the lyrics to the last of which are as follows. Actually a German poem Im Abendrot by Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff. The elderly composer was in exile in Switzerland to escape the Nazis looking back over a long and fruitful life preparing to walk into his final sunset with his beloved. 

At Sunset (Im Abendrot)

We've walked, hand in hand,
through hardship and joy.
Now we both rest
from walking across the silent countryside.

All around us the valleys are fading,
it has already become dark.
Just two larks are still rising,
dreamlike, into the heavens.

Stand here, and let them fly about,
it will soon be time to sleep,
lest we go astray
in this loneliness.

Oh further, silent peace!
So profound at sunset.
How tired we are of traveling:
Is this perhaps death?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

El Dia de Los Muertos

Denise went to Mexico City for a long weekend to enjoy the Day of the Dead celebrations. Her pictures were exactly what I wanted, an opportunity to step outside my room and see color and beauty from the world outside. First she sent me some murals and amongst them we see under the bowler hat, the shiny forehead of José Martí the Cuban revolutionary standing next to Frieda Kahlo the artist:

Denise is my oldest friend in the United States. I met her at Long Key State Park in June 1981 when I was traveling across the US on a Vespa 200 I had bought brand new for $1500 in Brooklyn. Those were the days! Seen here in Mexico later that summer: 

Denise was doing a tourist survey and she invited me to stay at her place in Delray Beach after I visited Key West. And we have kept in touch ever since. Pretty amazing. 

So here are the pictures as sent to me. I hope you enjoy them.  I did! 

“¿This is how you protect me?”