Rehab is a world unto itself.
I think it is the lack of privacy that is getting to me more than anything. There is not one aspect of your existence that is not scrutinized and made fodder for casual discussion amongst the staff. What is sacrosanct for you is routine for them. And that is, after all, their job. But because there is no Cone of Silence, you hear more about yourself and your co-inhabitants than you ever would have wanted to know in a million years. I am horrified to hear my elderly roommate reporting intimate details about my body functions to her friends and relatives. I can’t imagine they are all that thrilled either. At least those who are under 80 and not demented.
All rooms are doubles and, from the sound of it, no match is an ideal one. Everyone has an issue and I am no exception. Sharing a room with a seriously ill 85 year old with mild dementia is in turns humbling and exasperating. She is truly suffering, and whimpers a good part of the day. It makes my heart break but it is also extremely upsetting to listen to. She is up multiple times during the night and, as a result, so am I. The television blasts even though she is not watching it and I have to ask for it be turned off from in front of her sleeping form. She is experiencing significant, audible gastric distress and I, apparently, am particularly susceptible to the sounds, as queasiness is becoming a permanent condition for me. If I have to use the bathroom, it never fails that the aide has gotten her there first, which will mean a wait of at least 45 minutes while she is taken care of and washed up. She needs help with her tray that I am too weak to give her, which means I have to sit and listen to her struggle until the staff comes in to help her. And then there was the panic when she was apparently dreaming and called the nurse to report there was something seriously wrong with her roommate (me). I was sitting on the edge of the bed reading as I heard this transpire out of the corner of my consciousness and an entire team had rushed in to resuscitate me before I could say a word. They looked at me and I looked at them while she insisted there was something substantially wrong with me. Which there clearly wasn’t. If nothing else, it got everyone’s heart rate up a bit.
But then in the night I hear her murmuring, offering thanks and praise to Jesus in gentle little whispers. I am chastened by her simple expressions of faith in the face of such adversity and pain. With gratitude, I silently join in.
Physical and occupational therapy is hard work but, I am pleased and surprised to find, effective. I can feel some strength creeping back, although stamina is slower in returning. The staff is no-nonsense but incredibly kind at the same time. My fellow patients are a fascinating cross-section, but each individual is a study in courage and accomplishment. Some have had strokes, some are simply weak from advanced age, some are recuperating from surgery. It is awe-inspiring to see how hard they are working and how determined they are. There are some exceptions, those who are frightened and confused, those who are resistant and at least one dirty old man, but most are valiantly giving it everything they have.
There is another woman here with MS. The first day of my admission I was cheerfully told by a few people that we would be introduced, that I would like her, that she was very nice. Which I had no doubt of. But it never fails to surprise me that people consider having MS to be some sort of choice or hobby that connects people who have it. I have no more in common with someone with MS than with an average person. If they had said they would introduce us because she was a writer too or was a movie buff or lived in Ocean Township, that would make sense, but not based on the disease we both have. And when I see her in therapy my heart sinks. She is very, very ill and extremely impaired cognitively and physically. What were they thinking?
The second day I am here (hmmm, or maybe the first?; it is so easy to lose track), I am interviewed by the team neuro-psychologist. The mini-mental exam is interesting, but not interesting enough for me to rise to the challenge. I just cannot wrap my brain around eight (or maybe nine?) unrelated words she asks me to remember and repeat. I ought to be embarrassed, but I just don’t care. Considering how competitive I usually am intellectually I am astonished at myself, but it is no incentive. I have no interest in those eight words and they just won’t stick. We return to them maybe six or seven times before giving up. I never do remember them all. It is a pretty humbling experience. But not one I am particularly upset about. This is not a good sign.
My independence has slipped away over the past year as the lymphedema in my legs limited my mobility and my function. I did not put up much of a fight, as I am just so weary. It seemed as though I had hit that wall of accomplishment and was just through with everything. Hard earned career was over and done with. Weight gain had rendered me hideously unattractive and uncomfortable. I no longer bothered with getting my hair and nails done. I don’t wear jewelry anymore or wear nice clothes. What’s the point? Not yet 60, I could see no future. But the therapy here has had such an impact in so short a time that I wonder, maybe I will drive again? Maybe I will be able to get myself somewhere to meet a friend for lunch or go visit my dad? One of the nurses (Becky, I just love her!) is chatting as she wraps my legs and says offhandedly “Miracles happen all the time, you never know.”
Now those are eight words worth remembering.
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