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(Previous: What I Saw After the Crash -- REHAB -Part 1)
I am attached to two machines for several hours every day as I lie in bed. One encloses my right leg and slowly flexes, then, extends the leg to try and get what is left of my knee working again. The other machine is tight around my left arm and also moves slowly in, out, in, out, in an attempt to free up my elbow, which can flex only a few degrees. Both hurt a lot, so I get to lie for hours while I am tortured every day. It’s a deep pain – the pain of forcing frozen, atrophied, damaged bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles to twist and turn. It really sucks. I am also working my left foot and right elbow on my own. They provide the only mobility I enjoy. By pushing up with my left heel and right elbow at the same time, I can sort of scoonch myself up in bed after I have slid down a bit. Aside from the reciprocating wheezing of the two torture machines, the room is quiet. My roommates come and go and few seem interested in talking or watching TV. I am informed how lucky I am to have these marvelous machines, for they do the work that was until recently only available from an actual human therapist. I try to feel lucky. Nothing happens.
Every patient has a daily therapy schedule, delivered in writing once a week. I am expected to get to the Therapy Room on my own. This involves a long and painful process I am learning too well. First, I reach with my still pitifully weak right arm to beside my bed, where lives my Transfer Board. The Transfer Board looks like a four-foot-long surfboard and weighs perhaps ten pounds, a weight I can barely manage on my own. I struggle the board up until one end is on my bedside and the other is on the seat of my wheelchair. Then, using my left leg and my right elbow, I scoonch myself up onto the board and then slide-scoonch down the board until I am in the seat of the wheelchair. Winded and sweating by then, I grab the board and put it across my lap. Then, it’s time to “ankle” myself down to the Therapy Room, using my left foot and ankle to inch the wheelchair along the passageway. It’s like moving your car by sitting in the driver’s seat and using your left foot to make it roll. ‘Great exercise,’ I pant to myself.
After what seems like an hour I arrive in Therapy. The Therapy Room is large -- perhaps 60 feet square – and brightly lit, filled with raised mats, chairs, benches, various therapy devices, and the cries of people in pain. I have limited therapy still, as my left elbow is frozen and nerve damage has left my left hand numb, and I am not allowed to put any weight on my right leg (“It’s a horrible break”) with my tibia having been pretty much pulverized and rebuilt around a titanium rod and various remaining bony bits held together with a bunch of plates, wires, and screws, the latter whose heads poke out of my knee area like small islands in a sea of red, puckered flesh.
Once in Therapy, I get to reverse my Transfer Board Shuffle, arriving upon one of the raised mats more or less by myself. The therapy staff is skilled, motivated, and pitiless. Therapy hurts. Really, really hurts. Imagine spending a period every morning and another every afternoon having someone roll a motorcycle over, say, your foot and then your arm while you are encouraged to “push back a bit more” and you have the general picture. I am not great with pain, but I have decided that I am either going to regain the use of my body or die here, so I grit my teeth and plug along. After the Transfer Board Dance, I get a wide variety of therapies from which to choose for this session. In one a therapist pushes and pulls my right leg to exercise the knee while I yell in pain. In another, the therapist rotates and stretches my right wrist (shattered and put back together with pins) while I yell in pain. In yet another, a therapist makes me do abdominal crunches while keeping my legs straight while I yell in pain. In another, I have to squeeze a hand-strengthener while I wince in pain. In still another, I have to arrange blocks in their recesses or turn cranks or clock keys or lift small weights while I yell in pain. I sense a pattern here. Around me the other patients either work to regain their bodies or sit in abject, hopeless misery.
Many of the patients at Rehab have had knees or hips replaced (“the rookies,” as I call them) and are supposed to be getting back on their feet. Most of these are elderly and some have just given up. There is one raised matt in the center of the room around which a curtain has been drawn. From inside the curtain I can hear a calm voice say, “You have to exercise your hip, Mrs. Jones, or you won’t be able to walk again.” This instruction is accompanied by a horrible, old lady voice wailing in distress, then exclaiming, “I hate you!” before dissolving back into soft cries. Across the Therapy Room another elderly lady in a walker is shuffling very slowly toward a kitchen set-up where patients practice using a mock stove or toaster oven. This lady’s face is pinched white with pain and sorrow as she moves, tortoise-like, towards the stove, her thin, white hair a frizzy ball on the top of her head. Push walker forward six inches. Pause. Inch right foot forward six inches. Pause. Bring left foot up even with right foot. Cry with pain and hopelessness for several seconds. Take breath. Repeat. Once she reaches the “stove,” she stands shakily within the walker, wheezing, eyes shut, clearly unable to do anything else. It is obvious that some patients are not going to regain the use of their bodies. I spend about 45 minutes this session being twisted and moved and then trying to pick-up small objects and put them in special containers. My hands are slowly coming back to life.
Interspaced with my physical therapy is mental therapy. The blow I took to the head in the crash has caused some brain damage that the docs still feel may repair itself. My thinking remains muddy and slow, another indignity I have to live with. I see a psychologist several times a week, first ankling myself along the passageway towards his office while singing my personal theme song for this place, “Bits and Pieces.” I arrive for my session and he asks me how I feel physically and how I feel about the accident. This is a Danger Area, since I am in this mess because a guy with a history of accidents and irresponsible behavior hit me from behind while I was flying, something that is NEVER SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN!! He should long ago have been stripped of his flying license but instead has suffered no repercussions and reportedly has been protected by friends at the FAA. This injustice is maddening to me and I try not to think about it except when my shrink forces me to here. Examining my feelings then shifts to examining my head injury (“you had a moderately severe closed head injury”). I’ll bet. I’ve seen the glasses I was wearing at the time. The glass is long gone, there is a matted filigree of dried blood on them, and the frame is smashed completely flat, as if a car had been driven over them. Thinking about it makes me cringe. My FACE was in them when they were flattened. If I put a finger up my nose (a finger on my right hand; my left arm doesn’t bend far enough for left-handed nasal maintenance) I can feel the multiple, bumpy healed fractures in there. The nose I still cannot blow by myself. The nose that still discharges gummy dried blood when I blow it. Triple Bummer. I continue to be surprised with how uninterested hospitals are in cleaning such things as a patient’s dried blood weeks after an accident.
Today we do another maze puzzle. We’ve all done them. You get a picture of a maze and a pencil. Then, a stop watch is started and you try to run the pencil from one end of the maze to the other. My maze skills are not very good so far, another frustration. It takes me a long time to find my way through the paper maze. I feel like “Charly” in the movie of that name.
I use my shrink periods to do some complaining about things. This day he takes out a black piece of paper and draws one vertical line on it. “This line is your life. The bottom is when you were born and the top was the day of the accident. That life is over now.”
Crap! That is not what I wanted to hear.
He then draws a second, small vertical line next to it. “The bottom of this line is your new life, starting now.”
“What you make of it is up to you, but it will never be your old life.”
I need to hide.
I guess this is what they call “tough love.” It doesn’t feel like love. It feels like another injury. I have been trying not to think about what is gone for good now. Karate, that’s for sure (“You should regain some use of your left arm and may have to walk with a cane.”) Flying? Not until I can again pass an FAA medical exam. But I am absolutely determined to come back that far. My old job? I won’t be climbing any more tall ladders to roof tops to install electronic equipment. With a bad leg? One good fall and I’d break into all my new component metal parts. The session ends and leaves me with time back in my room to stew over my future. But just having a future seems like enough for now.
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