Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Decision Day

Folks, I need a favor today and I know this isn’t much of a post especially considering how little Key West content this Diary has had lately...Forgive me but my mind is much taken by an appointment I have this afternoon with Dr Quinnan. He’s the surgeon who rather expertly repaired my ravaged pelvis and who will decide today if I can put weight on my legs.

If he says I can chances are the insurance will let me stay here to continue getting first rate therapy. If my pelvis still can’t support my weight in any measurable degree I go home for in home care which as lovely as it would be to see the Keys is not so great as a treatment plan. 

You have been so kind and thoughtful in your comments I am embarrassed to ask for more but continuing on in rehab means a lot so I thought to ask any of you who feel like it to invoke any practice you believe in, prayer, thoughts, visualization or warm fuzzies to side with my best outcome and a positive report from the surgeon. I thank you in advance.

If I get an unfavorable report and have to go home it will simply be a new challenge. Friends stand ready to come and spend time supervising me and the Key West Police Department is being amazing supporting me in my difficulties. Best employers ever. It makes me emotional to see how they are helping me with post rehab accommodations. Volunteers have installed a donated chair lift at my house and the department donation fund for just such cases as this is standing by in case I do go home to put me up in a wheelchair accessible apartment in the city. Thus if I need help I call my friends at 911...Stress relief is uncanny knowing volunteers have my back.

I have learned so much in this medical process about myself, my online friends, my physical friends and the community in which I live. I know now not to be afraid of hospitals or sickness and to appreciate the caregivers in an uncaring insurance driven medical system. This whole ghastly experience showed me I have more resilience than I imagined and also how lucky my family is to live in the Keys where there is more support than I ever realized. I also know the value of joy, and sharing it and being open and authentic. Lessons hard learned for a shy introvert like me. 

Bless you all and thank you for making this lonely expedition to the outer reaches easier. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Michael Makes His Mark

Every weekday morning around 10:30 I take a short flight out of bed in the Hoyer Lift and into my wheelchair. Then the sweet and lovely Natalie pushes me to Occupational Therapy where I exercise my upper body. Natalie is pretty no doubt but so much more than that.  She is so kind and gentle she guards my injured foot like it matters to her as I swing round the Hoyer Lift. She is planning a career in therapy as she supports her boyfriend through chiropractor school so healthcare is all in the family as it were. If I had a daughter I’d be proud of one like Natalie. 

Once at the gym Elias takes over and sets me weights and tasks to build upper body strength. Then he brings me a chocolate espresso from the machine, a huge incentive! My tasks are to curl weights in my hands, lift and stretch in various ways. Yesterday a little old lady was sitting next to me at the table in her wheelchair. She looked a wreck with purple mottled skin and a thick head of unkempt hair she was bent double and holding a hand exerciser, one of those plastic gates with elastic bands intended to make your hand stronger. 

Elias and I posing for the inevitable selfie...
I’m not allowed to photograph patients and to avoid being able to identify her I’ll change her name but the conversation went like this. 
“Hi. I’m Michael. What’s your name.” That got me a grimace. “Do you speak English? Hablas EspaƱol?” That got me a grunted Yes.  No English speaker in Miami wants to be addressed in Spanish especially not my Italian accented pidgin Spanish with Italian thrown in when I forget the Spanish. I was encouraged by that one word. 
“Where are you from?”   - Here 
“Miami? Cool no one is from Miami” I said.  - I am
“Squeeze that elastic band. Imagine it’s all those people who moved to Miami and screwed up your home town.” The previously comatose patient started squeezing her hand tool. The therapists were in a juvenile huddle gossiping. 

“What’s your name? And keep squeezing...” -Rosie.  
“How do you do.” - I hate this place. 
“Squeeze the damned rubber band.” I said and Rosie started giggling hunched over in her chair. All it took was a little interest. Then before I could ask about her family or anything interesting (I’ll bet she was a spy in World War Two or something equally outlandish) her cold therapist wheeled her away. I’ll talk to anyone these days.  I was nearly dead a month ago. 

After lunch I go to physical therapy and work on my legs and core strength. Eddy lifts me out of the chair with another Hoyer Lift and stretches me out on a plastic pad that looks more like a four poster bed with bondage apparatus than an exercise platform but that is what it is. 

Yesterday we didn’t use the Redcord pulleys, we practiced rolling. Let’s face it rolling sounds as energy consuming as raising a six pound weight but let me tell you learning to roll to the left with a bum right leg and using no hands was quite something. I started by trying to raise my legs and while under control letting them back down to the mat. That set my incisions burning. Nothing like fire in your leg to focus your attention. Then Eddy had me sit up from side to side. Then the big kahuna, he made me position my legs, left under right and immobile right as far forward as possible and...roll!

Damn! I did it! And I didn’t grab those black carabiners in the upright post you can see in the picture above.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was so grateful I grabbed Eddy’s hand and pretended to kiss it. He laughed and that sealed my fate.  A complete stranger across the room shouted “Michael’s happy!”  General hilarity. I guess my noisy progress has been under observation. I laid back on the mat and laughed. Hell of a day.

The Edge Of The Unknown

I have managed for many years to drift along in what I can only call a very satisfactory way, dodging reality and getting bored from time to time. The trouble is this  near death experience has thrown into stark relief the cracks in my life. I write this essay with some trepidation as I don’t really know how to “make every day count” but I feel some obligation now to do just that.  Only boring people get bored, right?  How could I get bored?  Marking time till retirement...that rabbit hole I was so eager to start down in 2021. 

And in the midst of these musings I’ve had conversations that have illuminated my thoughts. In conversation with my oldest friend in the US whom I met on my Vespa voyage of exploration in 1982 we were talking last night (instead of writing this blog) and I mentioned Anthony Bourdain whom I admired and whose last shows illuminate my Sunday nights in rehab. For my friend the late chef was no more than a loud New Yorker and I wanted to correct that image but it soon came clear there would be none of that.  In her mind he was no more than that. This despite the fact both myself and another traveler friend both thought highly of him. Nope, no change no way no how. Her mind is closed no new opinions wanted. 

This brings me to Meg Cabot a well known author among youngsters and fans of her book and film The Princess Diaries. I knew of her thanks to the Key West Citizen but I was not drawn to descriptions of her books. I am not the demographic. So I’m lying in bed, as you do in my situation when Luis the handyman drops a package in my lap. And this author who has your average giant publishing empire to handle has taken the time to package some books and write the most personal and kind, dare I say flattering note to me and packaged it all up and figured my address and mailed it all off in good order. Bit of a head spinner really. So now I’m trying to write this damned page forgetting she actually reads it. The weirdest thing is I started into one of the books and I like it. How about that? Once again my closed mind is forced open. There is no end to it. I tried to say thank you by Facebook an uncertain medium so let me say it here untrammeled by gatekeepers and the vagaries of giant corporations. Thank you. 

I got chocolates puzzles and games from Internet friends and my wife’s cousin in Chicago Lyn whom we visit from time to time but never enough. Plus I got a rather fun read from a visitor who dropped in unhappily while I was at the doctors. Check this out:

I think all this ebullience and lust for life sits badly with some people.  I rather fear I have put one friend in the lost category in my pursuit of abundance. It’s not all good marching through daily life like a bull in a china shop and I don’t recommend it. The trouble is when you are in my position finesse gets lost at the wayside. Somewhere in this process I need to find the brakes I’m thinking, and I will need to slow down but right now I’m alive and I don’t want to waste a minute.  Fear or trepidation have no place in my life. Not helplessness neither.

I often think back to a morning driving to Big Pine when I saw a car stop in the highway and drop some trash on the ground. I reached the spot after they left and found a tortoise upside in the road condemned to die. I did the right thing but I knew not whence it came so all I could was put it in safety but not put it back home poor thing. I figured the car was loaded with future serial killers and hoped for the best for them too. Torturing animals doesn’t make me like you actually. Being a tortoise in bed unable to help myself much puts me in mind of that day. Yet I still want to live fully even here. 

And that brings me to Webb Chiles. I have come to terms with the idea that an icon of my youth can be a close friend in my later life as unlikely as that sounds. He has written some of the most personal and illuminating literature of sailing in small boats that you can find.   Webb is closing in on his sixth circumnavigation by boat and he has taken joy in not making it easy for himself. He has sailed most of the way round the planet in an open boat, he sailed Cape Horn in an unsuitable sailboat prone to failure, he has been jailed in Saudi Arabia for an accidental landing and he nearly drowned when his boat sank off Florida.  He describes his life as going to the edge of human experience and sending back reports. 
Webb and I keep up a lively correspondence and he brings the outside world daily into these four walls. Which is the greatest gift all these packages gifts letters and communications bring to me. I cherish them all.  Webb paid me the compliment of reversing the journey. He’s not a man given to flattery so I believe him and feel encouraged to keep on keeping on, adding his remarks to the heaps of notes encouraging me in this time of tedium and repetition. 
“You are going through experience beyond mine and you are doing what I have professed to do:  go to the edge of human experience and send back reports.  Your reports are excellent.  Whatever else you think you are, you are an artist.” 
All of you need to know my sense of myself is wobbly at the moment and if I have offended I am sorry and if I have encouraged I am glad. If I have taken you over the top and shown you worlds you don’t want to see I apologize for my nature often leads me to excess. Maybe I  am an artist. That’s a new one for me to think about. 

He doesn’t care.  I’m just his Dad and he flopped on me. Lovely. 

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.