Wednesday, October 31, 2018


I was given a compendium of funny stories from the Reader’s Digest and if you are as old as I you will remember the words “Laughter-The Best Medecine.”  I have found lots to laugh at in rehab but lately I have found myself the old timer in the gyms. People who were here previously are gone and I see new faces and a new set of challenges to start conversations. Sitting at the table yesterday I saw one dude I knew and we fell to talking.  The guy on my right I didn’t know but he seemed affable enough. 

In rehab conversation follows predictable paths. Where are you from what are you in for, asked with circumspection or hinted at as not everyone wants to reveal all.  Yesterday the guy said he was in rehab following a kidney transplant. Whoa! Weird! Apparently a nerve to his leg got severed and he needs to learn to walk again. Not very funny so far, right?  So I asked does a transplant hurt? ( I like to know this stuff and rehab generally is a great opportunity to ask). No he said.  Not being able to piss hurt like a...and dialysis sucked. The transplant didn’t. They have all those drugs. Oh yes I said remembering my own surgeries. I love Dilaudid, fantastic stuff. Yeah he said until it blocks your gut. 

Now it is said, and I know this from experience that if you put two sailors in a bar sooner or later the conversation turns to toilets. In my new experience here I have found patients in rehab frequently weave the same course. The kidney transplant and I both got the dreaded Ileus (“ill-eh-ooss”) when the painkillers after surgery paralyze the bowel. We compared notes on our blocked bowels shaking our heads sadly.  My sister in law the doctor I said,  recommended prune juice. I tried it and at two in the morning the dam burst and I went into details which got all three of us laughing our heads off. Trust me, part of the relief from misery is knowing it is shared. Floating helpless in a bed of diarrhea is only part of the joke. 

That’s nothing the kidney transplant said. I got a rubber hose up my butt and a second guy in the corridor pumping a water barrel. Every time my nurse yelled “now!” I got hosed. By now all three of us were thumping the table with tears running down our faces. Did it work?  I gasped straining to catch my breath. Not entirely he said and I shall spare you the details. We frantically sucked air trying to compose ourselves. What a shitty day the transplant patient said shaking his head at the memory then he realized what he had said which set us all off again. 

You’ve had enough fun Elias said as he broke up the trio by pulling my chair back and wheeling me off to the rowing machine. Later I was sitting opposite a grumpy looking guy lifting his weights.  You’re the one from Key West he said. Yes I said wondering what rumor  the  mill had started. You’re all weird down there he said. Guilty as charged I replied but the great thing is if I’m weird I’m as nothing compared to the guy roller skating down the street behind me in a pink tutu and fairy wings. He looked about ready to choke. There’s always a bright side I said. And he stayed grumpy even though I never mentioned fecal matter once.  Some people are just like that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Reaching Out

Try this experiment. Put a cup of something you like to drink on one side of a table. Walk to the other side and pull up a chair. Sit at the table and push the chair as close to the table as it will go. Now reach for the cup. 

Welcome to the world of rehab where broken people get put back together. As we wait to restore function we try to move among the places and objects familiar to all of us, rendered unfamiliar by some shortcoming. If you offer someone in a wheelchair an object for pity’s sake make sure it’s within reach.  The obligation on the person in the chair is to be patient. Especially when training the able bodied. 
For me to be able to define what it means to be in a wheelchair is a bit of a stretch as only two months out of my last sixty years have been viewed from this different perspective. Every indication is that within a few months I will be able to ditch the chair entirely and resume perambulation. Lucky me as not everyone gets to ditch the chair. I come to the chair with less experience than many but with the wide eyed gaze of one who actually lives the limitations. This photo below is from the bad old days, a month ago when my leg was held in a brace that I likened to a sheep carcass gripping my limb.  I would never allow myself to go out of my room in bare feet today. Live and learn.

People used to be described as being “confined to a wheelchair.” Such language is  now considered archaic and we lucky people simply “use” wheelchairs. Nevertheless it is confining. If I drop something on the floor my only hope of picking it up is by use of my grabbers. 

If I lean forward I risk going arse over tip and landing on my head. So it is that I have got pretty good at grabbing stuff with my claw extension. The other big issue that arises in this context is offering help. It took a while for me to establish that if I want help I’ll ask. I know I’m slow but it’s good for me to try and then to succeed. When I can’t reach I pull out my grabber and as soon as the stick appears the offers of help flood in. If I drop something I will need help, otherwise I’ll let you know. 

It’s a social minefield. To me in my room with my habits the process is obvious but for someone towering over me on their feet it’s anything but. When I get back to my room after physical therapy I like to sit in my chair before going back to bed. I tidy up rolling around with my grabber picking up and sorting stuff out.  I go through my mail which thanks to you all is abundant and much appreciated: 

I check the next day’s menu and I skip salads as I don’t much like them here to be honest - I’ve developed a taste for exotic dressings. The rest of the grub is okay for one such as me who grew up in institutions. 

When it’s time to lie down I have to make sure my bed is flat and low and three of the four side gates are up to prevent me accidentally falling out. Of all the things I dread  an unintended return to ICU is high on my list. So with my bed ready, the blanket is easily accessible by the head of the bed and my all important table nearby I line the chair up, put my plank across and slide into the bed. I wiggle like a maniac and get my shorts off, pull myself to the head of the bed and rest.  If I forget to take my shorts off the crisis arises when I need to pee and they are slow to get down when you are rolling from side to side. Then I use my grabber to push the wheelchair away and then I reach out from the prone position and pull the table in. Finally I cover myself with my blanket. All this to get into bed unassisted. In this picture below the bed needs to be flat. The blanket is in position. The plank is ready but my table needs to be near the bed head. The sheet needs to be laid out lengthwise as I can’t reach forward to pull it up from the foot of the bed. I’m telling you it’s a production. 

The table on rollers is critical. It contains my snacks, drinking water, napkins, books, and above all my urinals and hand soap on a separate area. If I forget the bottles I can’t pee and I’ll have to call for help. Sometimes they get left behind in the bathroom and it’s a race against time if the nurse’s aide will reach me before I have to let go. Wetting the bed this far along really aggravates me. If I forget anything in the sequence before I get in bed I’m screwed. Getting out of bed is impossible as the chair is now out of reach. If I leave the chair alongside I can’t reach the table. If I put the table next to the window the space is too narrow to swivel it. On and on. 

My wife to her credit is a fast learner and has been looking at my room through my eyes. Automatically she stands in front of me as I transfer from chair to bed to catch me in a fall. She knows where to put chair and table when I’m in bed and so forth. When she spends the night I am more relaxed as she will be right there if I forgot something. But that’s how you live everyday when you don’t have the full use of your legs. Every step considered and planned for. My friend Webb the sailor would understand because that’s how you cope single handing a sailboat. So now: when you hand me a cup of tea where do you put it? Within reach is the correct answer.

Monday, October 29, 2018

My Buddy

I would never have believed it but my wife insists it’s true. She says as soon as she pulled into the rehab hospital’s parking  lot Rusty started to whimper and wag his tail. He hadn’t been up in two weeks but on this his third visit he hadn’t forgotten where exactly I am incarcerated. 

My wife takes him for walks and he comes running back to me and reaches up over the bed rail to tell me all about it. 
He bothers no one, never tries to run out of the room and makes not a sound. Most of the staff love him. 

We move his bed around as he chooses. 

He loves grass and my great regret is we lack thick lawns in most areas of the Keys. Up here he takes advantage. 

Layne’s sister is in town for a visit. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Fantasy Fest

Say what you want but Fantasy Fest is exemplified by the  final Saturday of the weeklong event. It’s a day of wandering Duval Street quite possibly in costume, hopefully tasteful, and if not tasteful then you can be forgiven.  I’m sorry I missed the festivities this year even though I generally participate only marginally as it as a very busy week at the police department, obviously. Anyway my pictures from the Grand Parade come from Chuck who enjoyed the event. Indeed I have heard from others that this year Fantasy Fest was more costume and less nudity which is nice to hear. Sheila says it was the best Fantasy Fest ever for her and she enjoyed her elaborate teal tutu costume on several outings. I observe from a distance as do you. Oh well this year I’m in rehab, what’s your excuse? Here’s to a new style,  cooler Fantasy Fest into the future. Next year they celebrate 40 years with the theme of In Tune But Off Key. 

If you are on Facebook you will see a lot of people who give themselves the mantle of world weary locals tired by the week’s holiday. Ignore them. They are trying to be cool but aren’t cool enough to stay private or take a weeks vacation and go out of town rather than see people having fun. It’s the same pursuit of coolness as those dreary individuals who are so eager to tell you how long by they’ve lived in Key West. About Fantady Fest make up your own mind. 

I’m not into costumes or dressing up but especially now that gratuitous nudity is being toned down a week long local holiday is rather fun. Too bad so many people act sonpissed off about it. People who are too local to ever set foot on Duval Street. 

Change At The Top

I met Donie Lee shortly after I started working dispatch at the police department. Maybe it was 2005 when I took my elderly Labrador Emma to the vet on Flagler Avenue. As I recall he was there with his boyfriend and a large brown Labrador-like dog. He was a sergeant of detectives and I couldn’t find anything not to like about a man who cared about a dog. Obviously.  

In December he retires after a life spent in Key West with the police. The thing about Donie Lee is that he is thoroughly decent. Of course as a boss he made decisions that annoyed people but somehow he navigated the politics infested waters of Key West taking care of police business but managed to keep the city commission happy. I admired his political skills from a distance as I’m a civilian, a dispatcher on the margins of what the public sees on the streets. I was much closer during Hurricane Irma which in my experience was a highlight of teamwork in the face of catastrophe.  Donie Lee led us through that fearsome time like the seasoned leader he was and it wasn’t easy for him. My admiration for him notched up even higher. 

Outside the chief’s office there is a corridor filled with pictures of chiefs past going back to the 1920s. The occupants of that office has a long legacy to live up to in a city founded in 1828. 

Chief Lee added one word to the department mission statement. He has always felt strongly about the department’s commitment to service to the community.  He’s a fifth generation Conch so for him the city has really been more than a job site. In his briefings to us the employees he always stressed service.  He also pushed for a hundred percent success rate in everything we did. But he noted that’s not possible so make sure you do darned good.  Yup. It was always a challenge to get that good for Chief Lee! I will miss him. 

Our new chief took me on a ride along when I got hired in July 2004. Captain Brandenburg takes over the department in December. He is in charge of the administration of the department at the moment which includes dispatch. I’m glad he got the job not least because I respect his work ethic and his expectations. Working for the captain has always encouraged me to do better. 

I think this is going to be an easy transition for our department from one well grounded leader to another.  I can’t wait to get back. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

A Round Table

I wonder if there will come a time again in my life when I sit at a table and share my experience of nearly dying with two other men who saw my hand  and instead of freaking out raised me more near death each of them. It happened this past week and I have been ruminating on it since the conversation. 

If you have been paying attention you know I can’t photograph or identify Dave or Joe (names changed) but take my word for it, we three old white guys sat around a table in Occupational Therapy and talked without holding back. Dave started it. He asked Elias what I was in for and Elias said he couldn’t say owing to privacy rules. I rolled over to Dave’s table and told him the story of my wreck. I don’t embellish it- that would be hard!- but I tell it as a funny story and it is very funny.  Me flying through the air, telling by standers what to do, and then considering who the listener is either I skip to the helicopter ride or I’ll tell you about fading away. 

Dave nearly died from complications of routine surgery. He described sensations I am now quite familiar with, a physical sensation of comfort and warmth, a gradual loss of interest. To outsiders I describe it as looking for the white light but even though I never did see the white light I was entirely at peace for a while.  I don’t even know how long. I had no visions and I didn’t see anyone from my past, I just lay there and the physical coldness from blood loss left me. Dave was telling his story and I was nodding along because I recognized it. I thought I was fully conscious throughout the crash and aftermath but there was someone real holding my hand and I talked to her she said (on Facebook) and of her I have no memory.  I was busy fading away because I do remember laying there waiting for the end of this chapter and the start of a new journey. Then the paramedics arrived and started asking questions and so forth and I was back. I even took a selfie on the stretcher. I thought it might be the last picture of me alive. Not sure why that was important, and if it were I should have smiled. 

We sat at the table lifting our weights and squeezing our hand springs as we chatted. Dave is in his 70’s, a thin gaunt man with deep set eyes and a hook nose and a shock of white hair. He looks like a pirate having a streak of bad luck in his hospital gown and a startled look in his eyes. He stopped eating in the ICU and is proud of the hundred pounds he lost. He didn’t die either.  He cheered me on as I took my first steps in the walker. Nowadays he gives me grief as I lie on the mat strengthening my legs. “Sleeping on the job Michael?” “Fuck off Dave,” and he starts cackling from his chair. The therapists try to stay professional but we old codgers test them. Then I cheer him on as he fights the parallel bars. “Go back to sleeping,” he shouts over his shoulder.  We are alive both of us. My bed in the gym:

There were three of us at the table. Joe also in his seventies listened to us and then stepped in, as you do when sitting in a wheelchair, with his story of acute internal organ failure and twice he stepped up to the pearly gates.  Not ready he said as he pounded the weights. Was it easier the second time I asked. No he said, I still didn’t want to go. For all the agony of recovery, Dave’s piss bag whose tube is always getting in the way as he rises out of the chair, Joe’s grim determination to survive despite the odds he has overcome, my mild sense of confusion that I am still alive all combine to keep us awake and trying to do these impossible exercises.

You should have joined me in my ICU fast when I lost a hundred pounds Dave says as he watches me deploy my upper body strength (thank you Broga) only half defeated by my beer keg as Nathalie calls my abdominal six pack. Fuck off Dave I say conversationally between gasps and tugs at the Red Cords. He cackles as they wheel him out of the gym. I walked a total of fifty feet on my longest march this week.  Not all of it was brilliant, a bit wobbly, but I did it. I took four showers and shat in a toilet three times. I am alive dammit. 

The MRSA wound is almost closed and I am very happy about that.  What I am not so happy about is how pissed I felt when I was diagnosed. Dying in the roadway like a piece of bloody meat didn’t bother me aside from a vague feeling that I’d like more time thanks. However the possibility of the bacterium getting me pissed me off. It seems irrational to me. Perhaps after such a smash I had no expectations but getting through the ICU and all that misery had primed me to see a future which suddenly looked cut short.

I didn’t want to go back to pain and tubes and immobility. Perhaps that’s another lesson to be learned: just because I survived one brush with the Grim Reaper gives no immunity from the next encounter.  There’s food for thought.  Like Joe I wasn’t ready for a second go at the white light. None of us are so I have to keep on wasting no time. This is exhausting. Better make it worth it!