Over a few days, I began to adjust to the routine at the rehab hospital. My TV was turned on, and visitors brought me books and magazines. I became a fan of watching old films on Turner Classic Movies and became a whiz at Sudoku puzzles. They slowly introduced real food back into the plan. I had been on a ‘clear’ diet for a while, and was really tired of eating Jell-o and clear broth. I like chicken soup as much as the next guy, but it’s even better when it includes chicken. As my tests improved, the doctor gave the OK to (finally!) remove the catheter. About 12 hours later, I was ecstatic as I was able to urinate normally…even if it was into a bedpan.
Because of the fusion, my lack of strength, and the TLSO brace, I had to get help to do anything – I was still reduced to wearing a diaper, but if the nurses were around, they’d help me in and out of my wheelchair and into / out of the bathroom. It was nice to actually use a bathroom instead of the alternative….but sometimes I had to wait until a nurse or orderly became available.
One day, I felt the need to go…so I rang the bell. Nothing.
A few minutes later, I did it again. Still nothing. Things were getting more urgent.
After about 20 minutes, I realized I was either going to have to go where I didn’t want to…..or get my own self into the chair.
Using every piece of available arm strength, I pushed my upper body into a vertical position ,then used everything else to swing my legs out and transfer myself over into the chair.
I was sweating like I’d been running a marathon, but things were getting desperate. I kept inching my way into the wheelchair, hoping that I didn’t slip, fall or crash to the floor. I also hoped that the chair didn’t roll away from me just as I was trying to get into it. Closer…closer…and with one final push, I landed with a big “thump” into the chair. I sat there for a minute as I caught my breath, and remembered why I got into the chair in the first place.
I unlocked the wheels, and started rolling forward towards the foot of the bed. Once I cleared the end, I carefully pivoted around the bed, and turned towards the bathroom, which, while only about 12 feet away, seemed like it was in the next county. I rolled on towards the bathroom, praying that I would get there in time. There was still no sign of a nurse or orderly, so I was on my own, and now, was determined to get there, even if I failed in the attempt.
Making it across the room, I wheeled myself across the threshold of the bathroom. I got the chair in position, and locked the wheels. Using every last available piece of strength, I struggled to hoist myself over the toilet…and just when I thought I wasn’t going to make it….
I got myself into position, and used the toilet for its intended purpose. Success.
I’ve rarely been so happy in all my life. Tears were streaming down my face. If I could go to the bathroom on my own, I might be able to get some dignity back. When I was finished, I was able to clean myself up, wash my hands and fix my clothes. I hoisted myself back into the chair, and eventually made it back across the room, and reversed the procedure to get myself back into the hospital bed. Even though it was a huge effort to get out of bed and to the bathroom, the return trip seemed easier.
A little bit later, Peace came into the room to check on me. She said “Do you need any help going to the bathroom?” I said, “Not anymore.” She got a worried look on her face at first, then saw me with the first smile she had seen on me since I came into the hospital. She said, “You didn’t go to the bathroom all by yourself, did you?” “Yes, I did”, I replied, feeling as proud as a toddler does when they finally figure out they can go to the bathroom on their own.
Peace smiled, and said, “Give me a high five!” and held out her hand – I started to slap her hand, when she quickly pulled back and said, “You DID wash your hands, didn’t you?” (I did).
Over the next few days, I got into the routine of the rehab hospital. I wasn’t quite ready for the hard stuff, but I was given little exercises to do, like squeezing a rubber ball, or flexing my feet in the chair to start working on training my muscles to work again. Going to the bathroom became a normal event, for which I was very glad. I was still dependent for a lot of things, but having this one thing to myself made me feel slightly more human.
The food at the hospital was never Michelin-guide worthy, but I got used to the food, and was even given the freedom to choose some of the menu items. I burned through Sudoku puzzles like they were going out of style, and I was finally able to take visitors. My wife came first, and brought me my satellite radio, which made the days pass more quickly, since I could listen to music, comedy or the news. Another friend brought me the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy books – since I was going to be there for awhile.
My boss from work even came to visit – at first, we talked about the accident and recovery, but then I also saw that he brought a bunch of employee appraisals. Seems like my accident came about the same time as annual reviews. I gave him my input, and he was able to finish the work that I was supposed to have done.
Eventually, my kids Lauren and Jamie came to visit. The first time was a bit scary for both sides. Lauren hid behind her mother at first, and my son Jamie looked very worried. I hadn’t seen them for over a month, and the hospital can be an intimidating place. Over a few visits though, it became a welcome relief for everyone, and seeing the kids made me realize that there was life outside of the hospital. Even if I was inside, the world outside kept turning, and it was important that I work hard to become part of it again, whatever form that took.