The Joy of Being Able to Get in a Wheelchair!
or, Lying on Your Back All the Time Sucks!
My time in the ICU was over, and they were moving me to Trauma. Again, pushing me through the halls in the hospital bed. I hadn't left the bed since I got there, except that short dance session I had in the last story.
Trauma was quite a difference experience. Except for the Little Coma Baby across from me in ICU, and the medics who tended to me, I saw no one else. In Trauma, there was a constant string of people coming and going. Aside from a slew of medical personnel, I must have seen over 7 or 8 people come and go in the bed next to mine. A guy who was stabbed in the gut, another with a burned hand, who I still contact now and then. People with serious, but not life-threatening, or immobilizing injuries. While I was, of course, immobilized.
I was told, because of my fused vertebrae, I shouldn't bend more than 30° at the waist. I could guess at that measurement, but I wanted something more accurate. "Is there a compass on the outside of the plastic rail?" I asked. The plastic rail was more like a low plastic wall on the side of my bed, to keep me from rolling out, I reckon, and a place to put all the control buttons for the bed. There was, in fact, and I told the nurse, "Just put a pen mark at 30° on my side, and when the bed hits that spot, I'll stop raising it."
Then, the real joy: a back brace, which was hard to put on—I couldn't even do it alone, at first—and harder to wear. And, the accompanying physical therapy, which started with them teaching me how to slowly swing my legs over the bed, slowly sit up, at which point I always got very light-headed, and we had to stop for a minute or so, then, with the help of a strap wrapped around my waist, slowly standing up. Then, with help, back into bed. It was scary, and physically draining.
A few days of that, and then a step forward, then back, and into bed. Then, two steps. Then, way over there, to the chair in the corner. 4 steps away. Then to the chair, Now sit down, get up, go back. Even with the strap and strong hands helping me, I felt like I was going to collapse. Which I would have, had it not been for the strap and the strong hands.
I was slowly becoming more mobile; long gone were the days of being spoon fed, though I still got sponge baths 'cause I wasn't supposed to bend at the waist. I'm amused now at the phone call I made to my brother, a few days after the accident. My only basis for comparison was a broken wrist when I was 12, which healed in about 6 weeks. So I told my brother, "A month or two, and I'll be walking around again." Ignorance is bliss.
Nothing much of interest happened during my stay here. I missed the the youth and weirdness that characterized ICU. The high point of my stay in Trauma was the day I finally rolled over on my side. Now, I'm making real progress!
After some time—a quick search shows I sent out my first email Nov. 22, so it had to be around then—I was put into a wheelchair and shipped out. On to a nursing home/physical rehab facility. When we got there, they wheeled me to my new room, and left with the wheelchair. The transport guys just sort of dumped me in a bed that was tilted towards the foot, in a very cold room. The A/C was next to my bed, about 2 feet away, which of course I couldn't reach, and it was blowing right on me. I was cold and felt like I was sliding off the bed. I couldn't do anything but yell for help, and I gave that up quickly when nobody came. All I could do was shiver and wait.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, but was probably only an hour or so of slowly become hypothermic, a staff member came in, gave me second blanket—thin as the first one—fixed the bed, and turned down the A/C.
That was the norm there much of the time. Being ignored, treated shabbily, or not being able to even communicate with staff because they spoke Spanish or Haitian Creole only. Most of the staff were good, and knew English as a second language at least, but it doesn't take many of second-rate helpers to make ones life miserable when one is relying on them for most everything.
I wasn't supposed to bend, and movement was really limited anyway, so at least for the first few days I was being bathed by staff. It wasn't pleasant, this rather intimate chore being handled by others. There was one whom I was fortunate enough not to have to deal with, but the guy in the bed next to me got her regularly, and always complained loudly when she was washing his delicates. He would gripe, and she would retort, in her broken English, "Oh, you're all right." I could tell he wasn't, listening to him through the curtain; I think she was heavy-handed and perhaps a little sadistic. Someone had rustled up a wheelchair for me, and I struggled and flailed until I could flop into it, wheel the 6 feet to the bathroom, hobble inside, and use it. At that point I could claim I could clean myself, and didn't need help.
More physical therapy, even as they kept stepping down my meds, so sleep deprivation from discomfort and pain became the norm. I was always looking forward to excursions back to the hospital for x-rays or evaluations just so I could beg for stronger pain killers. The hospital couldn't help, and the process of just getting any attention from the home was exasperating. Everything was a process, just getting sleeping pills that didn't even work well took way too long. I can tell you from bitter experience, sleep deprivation was as debilitating as hard-core alcoholism; there were days I could barely think, and was very clumsy.
I found out I could leave the facility if I got an OK from some Dr., which was of course a process—everything was—but I finally got an OK and could tool around the neighborhood in my wheelchair. Which meant I could go to the liquor store for the other clients. Which was good for me; I had started smoking again there, and never had any. Making a run for booze or smokes always insured I could bum a couple. Then came the day I decided, if they're not going to up my meds so I can sleep, I'll medicate myself. So, I started drinking again, too.
That didn't last long.
They caught on, somehow. So I stayed in for 5 days, sober. That didn't last long, either.
I was informed I was being moved again. A definite step down, it turned out. The home had its pros and cons, and while it wasn't as clean or modern as the hospital, and the staff not always as friendly or attentive, or even able to communicate, I could get on the computer here, and it was here I finally was able to get out of bed, take a shower, get in a wheelchair, walk (feebly), go outside, feed the cats, watch the pigeons...
I was shipped to a Salvation Army a few blocks away. That didn't last long.