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.


Doug Bennett said...

Thanks for keeping us updated. We really care and want you back healthy again.

CaliforniaHoosier said...

Your poignant description of good and bad days is encouraging and delightful. Keep it up! I love the way you find joy in simple things, which has always been the allure of your writings. You remind me of the strength we all have and the power of connecting with time, place and people. When I tell people I was lucky enough to spend weeks in the wonderful Cleveland Clinic, they’re surprised to see me standing in front of a classroom full of people for three hours and moving around with a huge smile. But when you’ve been reduced to such dependency, the road back may take you to a place you never knew before—a place of humility and grace and happiness. I pray every day that you will find that place and share your insights with us. You go guy!

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, when i would go over to the nursing home and the aides would tell me about my mother’s bowel movements with unbridled glee.... ;). Remember, it’s just poop and pee, and it can all be cleaned up. Keep up with the upper body work—you’re going to need those when they get you on your feet. The parallel bars will probably be lots of fun. :)

Unknown said...

Hey, Michael, you know what they say ... pee happens! And a few wailing tears of frustration over occasional temporary inadequacies are certainly understandable, particularly under your circumstances. So have at it and don't let it get you down, although I know you won't. So, back to Comedy Central and another day closer to returning to your independence and peeing and pooping on the toilet, among other things you're missing. �� �� �� ������ �� �� To better days ahead! �� Cheers! KWBound

SalParadise said...

When I crashed my motorcycle, people who lived on the road came to help me and called 911. I so wish I could go back and thank them but they are like ghosts in my memory. Same with the two EMT's in the ambulance, and same with the team in the trauma center. Heroes, to me anyway.Such amazing wonderful people. I am full of gratitude I can never give. Conch you too are a hero at work, dispatching help from your police headquarters. A hero to people who can never thank you.

Anonymous said...

It takes a special kind of person to work in the medical field. I’m not that person (unfortunately). Thankfully, you have found a group of dedicated individuals, who have knowledge, and kindness. Being a ‘patient ‘ is always challenging, and at times, embarrassing. Hang in there. Don’t have US too. Best, Michigan.

Unknown said...


As I have mentioned before, my daughter is having her jaw joints replaced this Friday. I asked her to read the last paragraph of the "joy and Despair" post. As she was reading it was obvious she could relate. Her head nodded,as she was reading and she smiled,throughout but also at the at the end.

Thank you for sharing