Sunday, September 30, 2018

In Bed

The rest of the world loves the weekend as it offers valuable time off. I am a creature of shift work so weekends may or may not be work free for me. Whether I work or not weekends are just days in the week.  Right now the weekend is a royal pain in the posterior principally because there is no physical therapy and I end up spending most of it in bed.  However there is some other therapy. 

With my family present I get to have all sorts of love and attention in addition to that offered by the superb nursing staff. My wife is my booster when away and my bearer when here. She knows I hate my feet being uncovered, she brings me fruit and the outside meals recommended by my Miami buddy Miguel who knows every out of the way eatery in the metropolis. Last night it was Italian from Alaine’s Osteria in Cutler Bay. Today lunch should be something odd from a hole in the wall. Then on Sunday afternoon Rusty and Layne go home and prepare for work. The sandwich Miguel brought me looked odd but it was mahi mahi with onions and melted cheese with grilled onions called a Florida Philly, a homage to the cheese steak sandwich from Philadelphia. 

All that aside - and the sandwich really does look terrible even though it tasted excellent- my wife helps me to do the basic functions which are such a huge part of life in this room as we have discovered. Anyone reading this know how to put a diaper on a grown man stuck stretched out in bed?  Nope she didn’t either till Ketty took her under her wing. Now she orders me to roll back and forth across the bed like a professional nurse’s aide and I comply like a human rolling pin. Here she was a few weeks ago - a lifetime- with the daytime Vampire as they called Marcus in ICU as he went around drawing blood samples and telling me stories of picking up women on his motorcycle. 

She was a bystander. Now she unfolds diapers like a pro! She also rounded up a couple of aides and got me into my wheelchair with the Hoyer Lift. 

And out to the courtyard went my family and I.  

My wife’s determination fulfilled her plan! 

I was just a passenger...

Rusty had shrubs to explore. 

It was a lovely shady breezy spot.  Even after three weeks indoors I am used to the late September heat in South Florida and I was comfortable and not even sweating. I started playing with my iPhone camera. I miss my big LUMIX camera but I can’t use it here where photography is rightly limited by privacy laws.

And this black and white headshot put me in mind of Zardoz the absurd Sean Connery science fiction flick. 

What do you think? Am I the flying head? 

And so back to the room and an outside dinner as recommended by Miguel. We ordered pick up from from Alaine’s Osteria just up the road. Sausage and meatball appetizer. 

Fettuccine Alfredo 

A full happy day in rehab. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Joy And Despair

I had a terrible day Thursday.  I was in physical therapy in my wheelchair and I needed to pee. Usually I get a bed pan an hour before therapy and deal with all that at once.  Doctors say being regular is important. Thursday somehow I got it wrong. Nothing daunted I asked Eddy for help and he pushed me into a closet gave me a bottle and left me to it. Trouble was I couldn’t sort out pointing in the neck of the urinal while holding the bottle and letting go of the flow at the right moment. I peed on myself, my clean shorts my wheelchair my thighs. I broke down in tears. 60 years old I wailed and I can’t fumbling pee without help. My outburst of self pity shocked my therapists. I am their star cheerful patient.  The scene of the crime:

I lost 45 minutes of therapy getting cleaned up as everything takes forever when you are on wheels. The next day being Friday, Ketty my nurse’s aide put two diapers on me and told me to just shut up and let ‘er rip when the time came. No messing with bottles were her orders.  The peeing problem  never came up at the gym. Friday therefore was a good day. I got an extra hour PT and I worked my body like I really do want to walk again. It’s easy for me to say as I have no neural damage to spine or brain and all I have to do is let my pelvis mend which it will and then my legs will carry my weight. Meanwhile I preserve the muscles I built during years of Broga and TRX. 

It is truly weird how life in a hospital setting changes your sense of self.  Everyone around you has a medical understanding of your condition so what to you or me is disgusting, to them is a barometer of your state of health. Any bodily function or lack thereof expresses a statement about how you are. A smelly bowel movement to you or me is absolutely nothing to write home about but to them it says your gut is working (hooray!) or a liter bottle full of pee is something to be tossed pronto if you found yourself holding it.  Not for them: they note it in the ledger of your life and measure the amount with satisfaction. Cenat another of my favorite aides croons with her Creole accent about my full bottles of pee like I’d just won a foot race.  She sees a strong bladder while I see gloop that needs to be flushed away as quickly as possible. 

While you are out living a full life, inside these walls we live by different rules.  So yesterday my Occupational Therapist Elias walks into my room (after knocking - they all knock) and finds me in a riot of laughter with Ketty my statuesque Haitian nurse’s aide. Cenat (pronounced: senn -at) and Ketty do a fabulous job of looking after me but Ketty has additionally a dry sense of humor that kills me. She recoiled one day as she walked into my room to empty my bed pan and started berating me for the smell. Then she collapsed laughing when she saw my look of horrified embarrassment. At the point Elias arrived yesterday to Hoyer Lift me he walked into a hailstorm of laughter as I realized that Ketty had fooled me. She was doubled up laughing at me and I was laughing at myself for getting embarrassed. I threatened to elope with her and she looked at me. It would be great I said a statuesque Haitian woman holding hands with a scrubby little homunculus. They’d all look at me wondering what I’ve got. That cracked her up again especially as she is rather fond of her husband. Elias didn’t stand a chance. That’s Ketty to the left delicately attending to my leg. 

As he pushed me to the Occupational (upper body) Therapy Gym Elias told me what a terrible morning he’d had working with unresponsive patients, people that fill you with pity but who don’t feed your desire for connection.  Then he said he came into Room 508 and there we all were laughing like idiots. He felt recharged. That’s Elias with the beard getting photobombed in Comedy Central- my room. 

The therapy is hard work no doubt but it is brilliantly building me back to who I was and every day I am grateful. I wriggle around in bed and pull myself up and feel my chest muscles rippling with effort. Every day here is a fresh start. We laugh to erase so much sadness. A patient down the hall lost consciousness and they called 911 to transport him to the ER. Life goes on.  I keep lifting weights.  It’s my job, be they ever so light those weights they make me sweat. 

I used to be fearful of ending up in the hospital but I’m here to tell you there is nothing to fear. It’s just a place and pretty soon you learn the rules and parameters and you find yourself absorbed in your oxygenation levels and all that abstruse stuff. Needle phobia vanishes and acceptance takes its place. And the nurses and aides prove their love for you, their unconditional non judgmental respect for you their patient and you feel you can get through anything together. It’s a powerful feeling. And joyful too.  Even if you feel the need to fart a lot.

The Meat Crayon

There are coincidences too unlikely to occur until you find yourself in the middle of one. Everything I write today on this blog is as it occurred, as always, and as unlikely as it may seem all is true, as it always is on this page to the best of my knowledge. It just doesn’t ring true in my own head such is the impossible nature of this coincidence.  

The adventure started last Tuesday with my trip out of rehab to the doctor’s office at the University of Miami  Hospital which was  a hellish  journey in a van too small for my 26 inch chair. Never mind all that.  The afternoon van, a bigger machine showed up and off we went down the Turnpike back towards rehab half an hour away. Alex a powerful taciturn Cuban was driving and I was ready to be “home” at rehab in bed.  My stitches were out, my wounds healing and I was thinking about a bowel movement building in my gut.  These basic things are of moment when you live legless in a diaper. 

Traffic started to build on the Turnpike and I had been in my chair eight long hours.  Technically the rehab center was half an hour from the doctors office but that was looking hopelessly optimistic Tuesday afternoon in Miami. 

Alex was an excellent driver with total concentration he made my ride comfortable. He anticipated traffic, left lots of room between himself and vehicles in front and drove with a fluidity that I envied. No hard breaking, ghastly when you’re a passenger in a wheelchair let me assure you, no emotion from the driver watching traffic cut him off. I felt very safe. Progress slowed.

The good news was we were still moving at about 30 miles per hour. Suddenly a motorcycle appeared alongside us lane splitting illegally and at high speed in the midst of slow moving cars that have a tendency to switch lanes suddenly to try to take advantage of openings in “faster moving” lanes. The rider wore street clothes, no helmet gloves jacket or boots. I pointed him out to my wife who was riding shotgun and I reassured her saying I wouldn’t ride like that because it’s dangerous. She knows I try to stay safe... despite this fiasco. Then traffic slowed even more and I thought despairingly about my bedpan back in my room, as far away as the valley of eternal youth known to some travelers as Shangri La. 

My wife snagged the picture above from her front seat view. We nudged our way forward Alex carefully holding his space around the Ford F-350 van. Then a fire truck and an ambulance came down the slow lane next to us. Smoothly Alex slipped in behind them which I thought a mistake and we rode past the jammed up traffic. Turns out he was smart as he must have seen the problem next to the median and when the fire truck turned left and cut off the two lanes nearest the median I realized my driver was a genius. We strolled by as the three left lanes tried to squeeze into the lane closest the fire truck. 

Thus it was I got a good view (and no picture!Grr) of the Wreck.  Yup it was the lane splitter on his black Honda cruiser. His bike was upside facing the wrong way while he himself was sitting up leaning back against the cement median barrier surrounded by of all things a cluster of young Latina women. He didn’t look too bad, me being a very recent judge of such things. The ambulance was deploying a stretcher and back board so he like me was lined up for the ride of shame under the red flashing lights. My wife was deeply impressed by my ability to predict the wreck. I just felt shitty for the stranger. We kept going and after nine hours in the chair I made it back to my bed pan in time. Nice. 
End of story? Not at all. This is where it gets interesting...

So yesterday, Thursday I go off to afternoon Physical Therapy as usual but there is a wrinkle as I am getting an extra hour to make up for the time I missed Tuesday  while at the doctors office. Fair enough and I am impressed by the strict requirements of the Therapy schedule. Turns out my extra hour is with Drew a fearsome man, huge and powerful. 

A gentle giant married with daughters he adores, personal trainer weight lifter and business owner. And he is in constant pain from his love of sports as a younger man. Bones chipped cracked and broken are his portion. Difficulty sleeping is normal for Drew. He is a tower of empathetic strength. To see him delicately helping a tiny shrunken old person and I’m talking in their 90s is to see the gentle giant in action and his thoughtfulness patience and soft persuasive touch with these patients will bring a lump to your throat. 

I’m lucky because I have no spinal injuries or head injuries and my faculties are intact.  All I have to do is wait for the bones to mend. Then I stand.  And walk. Hooray! 
“Did I tell you about my buddy this week?” Drew said to me after he set me some leg exercises for my broken femur. “Went down riding the Turnpike Tuesday.” I asked if it was near Bird Road and he suddenly looked intent. We compared details and yes indeed the squid I saw lane splitting and crashing was Drew’s buddy and business partner. Drew sat up with him in ICU that night. Of all the people in Dade County who crashed I saw his friend. 

The therapist body builders gathered round to hear my version of events as no one knew what he did and he had no memory. Poor bastard. I saw a photo of his raw meat face and they told me of numerous painful skin grafts from sliding down the road unprotected: hence the title of this essay. Only one night in ICU? Me? 45 mph maximum and I’m off my feet for weeks.  Jeez. I don’t envy him the pain though.  I am mostly pain free from my operations.  But life goes on and more people are crashing out there.  Be careful and if you are going to ride badly don’t do it where friends of friends see you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Folk Art

I swear to God I am taking all the therapists and doctors and nurses at their word: I will walk again. They insist I will have no problem and I believe them. When my pelvis can bear my weight I shall go home and then I will be in training for Broga, walking Rusty and returning to my beloved Appalachia for long hikes with the one I love ( and who loves me demonstrably!). 

Meanwhile I think back to strolling, ambling, wandering, striding, and lusting after the beauty of the Southernmost Key.  I shall grab it all by the waist and plant big wet kisses of joy that I am back better than before and let the fearful doubters be damned. My lust for life is redoubled. Not dimmed. 

Another old friend of mine got in touch and advised she too has been to the hospital for cancer surgery with an excellent prognosis but still an appalling scare. I was glad she reached out to me and I hope our shared laughs made her feel better. I was not such a supportive friend years ago.

So: where were we?  Ah yes folk art. I never used to get out enough before the wreck but I did get to an extraordinary exhibit of Key West Folk Art and I was planning a series of photo essays to illustrate the influence of Mario Sanchez on the Key West scene. Lovely space at the Museum of Art and History. 

Mario Sanchez the influence.  

Can you tell a Balbontin from a Sanchez? 

And another one: 

Lovely stuff and this isn’t all. When I get nostalgic I’ll post more.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A Visit To The Doctor

Like every other thing it was an adventure getting to the doctors office. My wheel chair as issued by rehab is 26 inches wide ( for my fat ass). However it wouldn’t fit in the van. 

Back to my room. Transfer from my wheelchair to the van’s using the infamous Hoyer Lift. 

Back to the van. Horrendous 40 minute ride across Miami slipping down like toothpaste out of the tube. Three stops to readjust me in the chair on the freeway. 

Then the chair transfer at the doctors office. Holy terror standing up and switching chairs under me. 

After the checkup and final stitch removal all is well. One suture suppurating slightly. Six weeks rehab. At least to get my pelvis repaired so I can stand. Fine. Lovely.

However we then discover that the 26 inch wheelchair we brought empty into the doctors office will not exit no way no how with 280 pounds of Conchscooter in it. We ponder taking off the door (seriously!)  and decide to do another exhibit of me standing on one barely able leg clinging desperately to a couple of very strong aides. 

I stand and shuffle the wheelchair comes through the doorway and we’re out. Thank god.
Then the 75 minute wait for a bigger van to take me and the 26 inch chair back to my room.
Please god soon, meanwhile a taste of the world. 

After about 90 minutes a bigger van showed up but the lift was of course too narrow.  By force Alex manhandled the chair onto the ramp and got me in. 

And so home to bed. What a day. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Who Cares?

I had no idea what would come of me posting a meme on Facebook but it let loose a torrent of comment. I don’t post memes. I sent it to an online friend going through tough times at home. It generated no response.  I thought about it for a day and that flat affect pushed my mind into asking myself what does this really mean? 

I’ve heard it said that people will tell you who they are if you listen.  They sure manage to muddle me up.  I have terrible judgment where my feelings are concerned. So I started to ask myself, laying here in bed, what is friendship? Friendship is how they treat me?  That’s a new one.  Which may give you an idea how naive I am. 

My scooter wreck brought me close to the face of God.  It also brought me face to face with who I am and who I want to be.  Flat affect isn’t who I want to be. I know I want joy.  The bugger is I don’t know how to find it or share it.  To be joyful alone is absurd, the stuff lunatic asylums are filled with all the time. I feel joy at being alive and I now look and see who feels joy with me. If my presence even across the ether doesn’t make you smile then I’m doing something wrong.  I don’t want to run you the wrong way or be an annoying permanent smile on your horizon - the smile of insincerity. I want you to show me your joy. And your sadness and your fear. 

The only television hero I had failed at it. Anthony Bourdain turned his life around saw my world through his eyes and tripped. I can’t afford to trip on my journey out of rehab. Help me step out of my shell. Help me trust my instincts as you do the same.  We can only have a small part of each other but that part should be first rate.  I hope this page will continue to be the best I can do and it does something good for you.  It’s all I can offer.  It has to be enough.  If you know me you know I struggle daily with doing my best and I often fail. It’s all in the struggle and like rehab I can’t do it alone. Whether it’s worth the effort I can only say it is for me. 

Thanks for reading. 
Michael Beattie
AKA Conchscooter