(written 2/15) After an accident, it’s hard to believe that life will ever return to normal. A few days after the accident, I could barely read a magazine, let alone consider going back to work. While I probably won’t be zipping around with a walker or crutches for a many, many weeks (I love my wheelchair), the fog is starting to lift and I can happily focus on doing daily activities rather than laying in bed and wondering who’s going to enter my room next.
Since Sunday evening, I’ve been at the HealthSouth rehabilitation hospital in downtown Austin – across from Brackenridge Hospital. Rich worked hard to get me placed in a rehabilitation program within four days of my accident.
On the appointed day, two nursing assistants from HealthSouth arrived with a wheelchair and cart to carry over my clothes and the numerous flower bouquets I’d received. They wheeled me through the Brackenridge trauma center, past the room where they conduct CAT scans, past the salt-and-pepper-haired trauma doctor who was studying a chart, through the hallway that was lined with gurneys a few rainy days earlier, and past the many trauma bays where people arrive broken and often, never go home.
I cried my first night at HealthSouth. I’d become accustomed to Brackenridge and my little room with the narcissus-bordered wallpaper, Wedgwood blue trim, and floral curtains. It was my haven in the madness.
With so little control over my life, going somewhere that required I learn new nurses, doctors, rooms, routines, expectations, and other patients seemed overwhelming. However, with so many aspect of my accident, I was lucky once again. I was placed in a room by myself with a window that stretches from one wall to the other. The view is amazing. I sleep with the drapes open and can see the spectacular Frost Bank, Sheraton and Omni Hotels, and the colorful lights from other downtown Austin office buildings. As I was told, people pay big bucks to have such a view. It was comforting to wake up in the middle of night or early in the morning and see the view.
One of the focuses of rehabilitation is interactions – with therapist, nurses, doctors, and other patients. "Interacting" isn’t easy for a bona fide introvert like me who prefers to be alone and not ask for help.
Nevertheless, the first morning of my rehabilitation, I was happy when JoAnne, an occupational therapist, helped me out of bed and wheeled me into the shower. It was heavenly to wash my hair and scrub away the blood on my legs. Once in clean clothes – purple pajamas and socks with rubber on the bottom – I was given breakfast before an assessment with a physical therapist.
Every day is supposed to get easier. I measured ease by the amount I cried. The first day was filled with tears from the pain and frustration of struggling to do the simplest tasks, coupled with my left leg and hip constantly cramping. Two things made it tolerable… lots of pain medicine and a wheelchair. Being able to wheel myself the bathroom and around the halls was a huge boost to my confidence and the ultimate goal of becoming independent. The pain medicine is trickier.
With me, I’d take the medicine in the morning; feel great for many hours then wait for a nurse to "automatically" give me more. The nurses are very busy with other patients and I don’t want to be pesky. The problem was that I’d end up in tears and unable to complete therapy. After a few days, it became clear that my medicine not only had to be significantly increased, but I needed to stick to a schedule. Twice a day, I’m given a long-acting painkiller (along with other pills) then every four hours, I can have one to two short-term painkillers. Sound like a great plan, except the pills make me dopey (adding to my frustration), irritate my stomach and interfere with other aspects of my bodily functions. Grumble.
The pills also make it difficult for me to tell time. It sounds strange, but I’m having difficulties with numbers. My head "thinks" words, but can’t figure out the numbers on the clock! In occupational therapy, I have to sit in front of a machine and pedal my arms as if I’m on a recumbent bike. The clock is directly in front of me, but I can’t internalize what it says. I see the numbers and the second hand going around, but I can’t figure out how to add 15 minutes to what I see. Very bizarre.
Today, after spending four full days in rehab, I’ve been cleared to go home in a day and a half. In total, I spent 9 days in the hospital and rehab. I can’t believe how much time has passed. It’s been an eternity in light of my having never had a serious injury or broken bone or been in a hospital, outside of a short half-day stay for a medical procedure.
I did find the silver lining in what happened. I learned that I’m not an island. I need other people and that my action definably impacts others. I learned that my health is everything and it is my responsibility to maintain it through good nutrition and exercise. I learned to consider the plight of others before lamenting my own. And I learned that love – my love for Rich – can motivate and propel me to achieve what I thought was impossible.