Peace had been there since my first day at the rehab hospital. I was getting close to three months since the accident, and I talked with Peace more than anyone else, including my family and visitors. Since she saw me every day, she got to see my mood change, but she didn’t see all the improvement that was happening down in physical therapy. She was smiling a lot more, which meant I was doing better.
Most of my PT work was on the first floor of the hospital. Every morning after breakfast, I’d wheel over to the elevators, push the button, and when I rolled into the elevator, I’d give Peace a wave as I headed down. I’d come back a couple hours later, sometimes frustrated, usually tired, and in no mood to deal with other people.
Peace was always smiling when I returned, asking me how it went. No matter how grouchy I was, she was a ray of sunshine in what was frequently a difficult place.
One day, as I was wheeling about the rehab floor, I said to Peace – “Watch this.”
Peace put down her clipboard, and watched as I locked my wheelchair brakes, and put up the foot rests. I took a deep breath, gripped the arms of the wheelchair, and gave a push. Rocking back and forth, trying to make sure I didn’t sway too far, I stood there in place for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality, was only a few seconds.
Then, slowly, bit by bit, I took a step. Then another. Right…left….right…left as I inched my way around the nurse’s station in the middle of the floor. I got to the end of the station, and very carefully angled to the left to make the turn. I wobbled a little bit, but was able to keep going.
I got to the next counter end, and angled left again – halfway around…and started looking for the next turn. I was starting to tire a bit, and feeling a little shaky, but I kept going. When I turned the 4th corner, I started targeting my wheelchair, wondering if I could make it back to the seat before my legs gave out.
My right leg was starting to tremble a bit, as my muscles started telling me I had gone a bit further than my legs wanted to take me. With only a few more feet to go, I just kept saying to myself…’right…left….right…left’ as I got closer and closer. At this point, if my legs gave out, I might be able to make a grab for the chair and still make it.
As I took one final step, I put my hands out, grabbed the arm rests, turned and collapsed back into my wheelchair. I sat there for a minute, sweating and breathing heavily, and finally looked back up at Peace. I said, “What do you think?”
Peace didn’t say anything, but I could see her eyes glistening, and a single tear running down her cheek. That told me more than she could have ever put into words.
You see, Peace was there from the first day I got to the rehabilitation hospital. She saw me come in, completely incapacitated, vomiting blood, getting intubated, seeing my at my lowest possible point. She had to deal with helping me in and out of the bathroom, getting in and out of my chair, helping me turn over in my hospital bed.
During that entire time, she never complained once. She did her job every day, and made sure that her patients were taken care of. She listened to me gripe and complain, but never chided me about feeling down. Instead, she would distract me or change the subject until I got rid of whatever frustration I was experiencing.
Over the next few days, I started talking with the rehabilitation team about going home. It had been almost three months since the accident. My kids were already in school, and I had missed my daughter’s first day of kindergarten. While it was early September, the leaves were already beginning to turn, which signaled that it was time for me to move on to the next stage.
I wrapped up my PT exercises with BJ, who was now smiling more than growling at me. She was proud of the progress I’d made, but cautioned me that I’d need to work a lot harder once I got home. She wouldn’t be there to push me – I’d have to find the drive to keep working myself. Still, I was grateful for all the times she made me work when I didn’t want to. She knew exactly when to push, and when to back off.
I got some time with each member of the team, from the orthopaedic specialists, occupational therapist, psychologist and even the orderly staff. I had been there so long, we were all on a first-name basis. I got an opportunity to thank them, and to think about how much work everybody had put in on my behalf. If they hadn’t worked so hard, I wouldn’t have come so far.
On the last day, I got all my belongings packed, and my wife arranged to pick me up. It was a long drive across the county to the hospital, but since I knew she was on her way, I found Peace working over forms at the nurse’s station. I told her, “I’m never good at goodbyes, and I wish there was something more than I could say besides “Thanks”, but I really do want to thank you for everything you’ve done in my time here. Don’t take this the wrong way, but if things go well, I don’t want to have to see you again…at least not here.”
Peace smiled and gave me a hug. She knew what I meant. As she left work that day, she said, “When you got here, I didn’t know if you were going to make it through the night….but I think now…you’re going to go where you want to go.”
My wife arrived, and Peace rode down the elevator with us as I had my bag of hospital items on my lap. I was able to change into ‘civilian’ clothes, even if it was a T-shirt and shorts, they were mine, and not the hospitals. I was even wearing my own shoes, instead of hospital socks. I wheeled out the doors of the hospital, squinting at the sun, and rolled up to my wife’s car, opened the door, and slid into the passenger seat.
I looked back at Peace, gave her a wave as I closed the door, locked my seatbelt into place, and closed my eyes as my wife drove us towards home. It was the end of a big stage in my life, and I tried to imagine with the next part would be like. I wouldn’t have BJ or Peace around to push me, and I really had to get to know my wife and kids all over again. I drifted off to sleep in the car, wondering what would come next.