My Stroke: Part 4: Marginal Freedom

Even though I know it’s
Only chemical
These peaks and valleys are
Beginning to take their toll
Try to convince myself that
All it takes is time
But the most derisive voice
I hear is mine

Assemblage 23 – ‘Cocoon’


The last few days in the hospital went by much as the preceding days had; visitors, doctors, nurses — the constant parade of people tending to me, whether physically or emotionally continued throughout. I’ve forgotten to mention that during this time, while I first had the room to myself, another patient was moved in to the other side, hidden by the curtain separating each room into two spaces. His transfer was at request, as his prior roommate had been a very loudly negative and was constantly complaining with a string of expletives; he seemed more than content to have me as a replacement, as I was consistently pleasant and what the staff called an ‘ideal patient’. We conversed a few times through the divider, and I learned that his stay was brief, the result of some particularly troublesome kidney stones (if I recall right); his condition being rather more painful than mine, neither of us envied the other’s position. I mention him now because he plays a part in one of the more frightening parts of my preparation for release from the hospital.

If you’re a squeamish sort, or have an aversion to certain biological necessities of living things, you may want to skip this paragraph. You see, one of the more common and well-documented side-effects of many high-potency painkillers is a stopping up of one’s internals; while a catheter relieved one portion of this, the other side of the coin had been in a sort of stasis since my admittance, and there was no way that I was to be allowed to leave to the hospital until that situation resolved. To that end, a sit-down commode was brought in and set up beside my bed, and I was administered a few assisting medications to free up the blockage. A nurse or lift team (I don’t recall) helped me on to the seat, and then, after confirming my preference, I was left to some privacy to “do my business”. I remember that I was trying to adjust my position on the seat when, very suddenly, my balance swerved wildly out from under me, and I found myself, plastic commode and all, crashing to the cold tile floor. My neighbour, hearing the commotion, immediately asked if I was alright and activated his call button, also yelling out to the hallway that my wife had stepped out to. I’m told she bolted off, found the nearest nurse, and grabbed their shirt, telling them what had happened; they rushed in, gave me a quick once-over, helped me with some pillows and the like, then called for a lift team; I had to stay there, on the floor, until they could arrive to haul me up; I’m not sure how long I was there, but I actually recall that (biological panic-response notwithstanding) it actually didn’t bother me much, as I was, if nothing else, no longer captive to my bed. Eventually, I was lifted up, put back on the seat, and — this time with supervision — able to complete the task at hand. In retrospect, I’m extremely grateful that the fall preceded this, rather than following it.

They did some quick physical examinations, ran vitals (blood pressure, temperature, etc) and fitted me with a shiny new yellow bracelet reading “Fall Risk” after determining that, all things considered, I’d managed not to hurt myself in any way needing attention. That ordeal done with, I was told that the next day would likely be my relocation date, and I’d be moved to the rehab facility. The remaining time in the hospital proper passed without incident, and I soon found myself being moved to an ambulance, driven across town, and introduced to my new home-away-from-home. Here, unlike before, I was to be trusted with some measure of self-reliance and, perhaps best of all, some modicum of mobility.

I was first wheeled via gurney to my new room — a much larger and more comfortable space, if still outfitted in ‘hospital chic’ décor-wise. I was transferred to my new bed, which was, like the room, larger than my prior confines; before long, a string of staff members came through, asking questions for paperwork purposes, explaining some of the routines of the place, and, perhaps best of all, delivering my new means of transportation — a black, cushion-seated wheelchair. I laid in bed there for a bit before being moved to the chair, and given a tour of the areas of the facility that I’d be calling home for the next … some length of time.

There were all the typical things you’d expect from such a place. A nurse-station hub in the center, a cafeteria, a large physical-therapy gym; I was shown a courtyard, where patients could be outside while still within the confines of the facility, a pool for water therapy, and several offices and the like. I was shown a large whiteboard with a system for showing, by surname and room number, which therapies each patient was expected to attend each day; I was told I’d be having six 30- to 45-minute therapies every day (my introductory day not included). This included two sessions each of physical, occupational, and speech/cognition therapy every weekday, scheduled around structure mealtimes (8am breakfast, noon lunch, 6pm dinner) with plenty of space, typically, for resting between; physical therapy was conducted primarily in the gym area, with speech/cognition and occupational sessions taking place either in office rooms, patient rooms, or, from time to time (and as would become more common later) in the gym or attached kitchen and mock bathroom.

These rooms, too, were double-patient spaces, but I was alone in my room; they offered the second bed to my wife, who could use it for as long as no other patient needing it was brought to the facility. I was, for clear reasons, among the youngest of the inpatient folks, surrounded mostly by elderly persons who’d had similar conditions to mine, falls leading to bone breakage, or any of a number of other disabling injuries or medical procedures. I was introduced to my physical and occupational therapy team — patients were assigned to duos that would work together in the recovery process, facilitating easy communication between them along the way so that each could know the progress being made on the other’s side of the journey. My overseers and taskmistresses over the course of my stay were Lisa, in charge of physical therapy (PT, as I’ll likely refer to it henceforth), who would focus mostly on gross motor skills such as using the wheelchair, standing, walking, and the like;  Stephanie, the occupational therapist (OT) whose focus was in fine motor skills and everyday skills such as brushing my teeth, shaving, and dressing myself; I also met Carrie, my speech and cognition therapist, who would work with me on any roadblocks in my communication and critical thinking skills.

This first day, I was allowed to familiarize myself with the place, and given relatively free reign in doing so; my wife and I toured the halls after the initial go-through, getting our bearings and taking it all in. I should mention that, in all of this, I was expected to be the primary driving force behind my own recuperation; while the schedule board would tell me what slots I had for any therapy sessions, attendance and participation was, ultimately, my own responsibility, and I could decline at any time, though, obviously, for a recovery to happen, I was strongly encouraged to keep to the schedule. There were also plenty of on-call nurses and staff to help with other things; transfers between bed and chair, using the restroom (which was private to the room I was staying in), delivering medications, and all the trappings of a life inside of a medical complex. In the next instalment, I’ll get into more detail of these and my initial forays into various therapy sessions. For now, I’ll note that — while it was still hospital food — I had the best dinner put before me in a while, and then, I in my bed and my wife in the adjacent one, we had what I think was our best nights’ sleep since the beginning of this long and difficult journey.

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