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.