I don’t remember a lot about inpatient rehab, but I cherish the memories I do have. It’s a unique experience to have, and I consider myself lucky to have had and lived through it – the stroke, I mean. I’ve met so many incredible people, patients and others alike, and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet them otherwise. I count myself lucky to have had this experience. The side effects suck, but they’re a very small price to pay for being able to meet the people I’ve met and have the experiences I had.
I barely remember Thanksgiving. I remember that one of my OTs, Victor, went home for Thanksgiving and Anna, a new OT who was working with Victor during her first few months, took the lead on my sessions for the week. She was tough and certainly didn’t let me slack off during his absence. Thanks for that, Anna.
A couple of weeks before I was discharged, the therapists decided that it was time to be ‘reintroduced’ to society. I was scheduled to go with a few other patients to the Museum of Natural Science. My uncle used to work there as a taxidermist and his exhibits hadn’t been removed. I knew that the visit would be difficult: I went frequently as a child, had a family connection, and could walk the last time I was there.
The morning of the trip, I rolled my wheelchair to the sheet of paper that had been hanging up in my room for the last week and double checked that I had everything I would need. I took only a hoodie and my cellphone in the end. My therapies had been lightened for the day to make room for the trip. Adam would be gone for most of the day while I was out. He rarely left during my stay in the inpatient facility. I owe quite a bit to that guy.
I rolled myself into the hallway and up to the reception desk to wait for two other patients and a therapist, Emma. I don’t remember her exact occupation (I think she was a PT); just that she would keep me safe, had the most lovely Scottish accent, and could walk. I was intensely jealous of anyone who could walk at the time, while simultaneously feeling joyful that such a basic ability was still theirs. I watched one patient with a green wristband (color coded wristbands were used to tell how much freedom a patient could have. I had orange at the time, but had been promised yellow after the trip. Yellow would let me leave the floor under supervision. Green meant freedom to leave the premises.) call the elevator and leave to meet the others in the cafeteria.
I waited with a gentleman who wore a yellow bracelet. He could have gone on, but stayed so I wouldn’t be waiting alone. I silently named him Xavier, after the character in X-Men (hey, he was bald and in a wheelchair), and smiled at him while we waited. A lot of us would simply smile at each other. We rarely felt like conversing – those of us who could – and would just smile at each other instead. Sometimes I would roll away feeling as though I had just had a long conversation; it’s amazing how one can learn so much just from simple eye contact with another person. I avoid it in passing now.
Emma soon came and we were off to the cafeteria for lunch. I ate my turkey sandwich and grapes quickly and self-consciously. I’m still horribly self-conscious when I eat. You try eating with the hand you’re not accustomed to using and tie your dominant hand. Eat a sandwich, grapes, and open a bottle of water. Don’t make a spill or drop any grapes. I dare you. Add ataxia and you’ll soon hate eating in front of anyone.
We loaded into the bus slowly. I and the man with the green wristband loaded first. Xavier was discharging the same day and needed to stay behind. Taylor, an attorney from San Antonio who’d suffered a TBI in a horrible car wreck, and a woman with an eyepatch, Angel, walked in using the bus steps. The therapist who helped me on, Emma, another therapist, and three other patients prepared to leave the hospital with me for the first time.
I had, and sometimes still have, the odd feeling that I was born in that hospital at the age of twenty-four, and had had a movie of someone’s life installed as a reminder of how to make good decisions and how not to be. People are precious, and sometimes we forget that. I think I must have forgotten a while before the stroke, but I’ll do better this time. The strange disconnected feeling is almost gone now.
We settled and began to leave the parking lot. Panic began to rise in my stomach as we pulled up to the exit gate. It erupted in a fit of hiccups as we pulled onto the main road. I stifled them and stared out the window until we arrived.
The other wheelchair patient and I unloaded in the lift and waited as the others unloaded. We waited as Taylor and one of the therapists purchased IMAX tickets for the Jerusalem documentary. While we waited for the last IMAX audience to leave, Emma let me stand against the railing and study their movements as they passed. Soon we entered the theatre and looked around for the handicap seating row. It was at the very back. We rolled over and I stared at Emma in astonishment when she asked if I wanted to stay in my wheelchair or sit in one of the theatre seats. I eagerly pointed to the seats down the row and she helped me move to it. The 3D glasses sat in my lap after my miserable attempt to position them over my glasses. Emma settled in the seat next to me and positioned the glasses on my face. I was overwhelmed by how grateful I was, and how suddenly frustrated I was at my deficits.
After the movie, Emma helped me escape my wheelchair again as the others visited the gift shop. I wasn’t able to hold it in any longer, and huge tears slipped down my cheeks. Emma turned to watch for the others as I swiped at my face with my left hand. Thankfully, she hadn’t noticed, I think. We loaded up and arrived back shortly after four. I was exhausted. Two hours later, I had eaten and was fast asleep.