I had intended to write an account of my first day in Rehab, but it’s already almost 9pm and I’m exhausted from a day outside and still have kids to get to bed. This is also one of the more difficult subjects to write about, so I’ve decided to split it into two or three entries.
I didn’t sleep well that first night in Rehab or any night that followed and morning comes very, very early. Shift change is at 7:30am, so the night nurses started waking us up around 5am, so they can get everyone dressed and ready.
I think it was Chaltu that first morning, Saturday, May 26th. I remember laying like a slug as she stripped me down and tried to wrangle the same yellow university sweatshirt from yesterday back over my head and arm. Then, she called in the tech for the “2-person-transfer” and took me to the bathroom, placing me on the toilet. It had been all night. I needed to GO. I waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing happened. “Do you feel like you have to go?” she asked. I nodded, sure my bladder would burst at any moment. Still nothing happened. “We’ll have to cath you,” Chaltu said.
And then I got a crash course on what that meant as they moved me back to the bed and “cathed” me using a single-use kit as opposed to the kind I had after surgery. “You might have a UTI, a urinary tract infection, it’s common after having a catheter for a long time.” Chaltu said. “We’ll get this tested.” I think I nodded numbly. Not good. This is not a good sign.
They put me back in the wheelchair and the tech pushed me to the “Community Room.” There were tables and other patients all pushed up to them in their wheelchairs. “You eat meals in here together,” someone explained. Ah, kind of like camp. I looked around. A tech was passing out breakfast trays. Someone noticed I was new and asked if I was in “swallow group.” What are they talking about? Alright, readers (you know which ones you are), get your minds out of the gutter.
“No, she’s fine,” the tech pushing me in said. She pushed me up to the middle table where there were two other patients also in wheelchairs. The man next to me introduced himself as Robert. “What happened to you?” he asked.
“I had a brain tumor,” I replied. I didn’t say I’d had a major hemorrhagic event because, at that point, I still hadn’t quite put together that it was the major hemorrhagic event during surgery and not the tumor itself that had left me how I was.
“I had a stroke,” Robert said. “Get out Wednesday. When do you get out?”
“I just got here,” I said. “I have no idea.” The staff was buzzing around us, passing out trays.
“Do you want a towel?” they offered. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to reply, so I watched the other patients. When a patient accepted, the tech wrapped the towel around them kind of like a salon-cape. It took a minute to process that it was going to act like a bib. A big giant bib. I declined the cape-bib. They uncovered my breakfast and I set about trying to eat. The woman sitting across from me, a friendly grandmotherly type, introduced herself as Billie and told me she’d had a stroke. “How old are you?” she asked.
“Thirty-six,” I answered, realizing I was by far the youngest person in the room.
“You need to meet Lily. She’s 32. I think she had a brain tumor, too. She has a new baby.”
And suddenly, thoughts of sitting Indian-style on my hospital bed with Lily, whoever she was, chatting about our brain tumors filled me with an amazing hopefulness. This Rehab thing is going to be great. It will be just like cheerleading camp in high school.
They wheeled another patient up to the table. She was about Billie’s age, whipcord thin with oxygen tubes in her nose. “Good morning, Lilian,” Billie said. Wait, I thought they just said Lily was 32? Turns out I had landed among Lilies.
“Know what my usual breakfast is?” Lilian said in raspy voice with a Southern accent. “Coffee and a cigarette. They told me I can’t smoke no more. Took my cigarettes away.” And just like that, I had my new best friends, Billie and Lilian.
We ate, or tried to eat. There were packages that needed two hands two open, bottles and cream for the brown coffee-water. The nurses and techs moved through and opened things as they went. Then the nurses brought each person their morning pills in a cup. I didn’t recognize most of mine. “Keppra, antacid, stool softener,” the nurse explained. “I’ll be around with your Lovenox in a minute.” Groans sounded from all over the room. What’s Lovenox? I found out a minute later. Lovenox is an anticoagulant that they give people who are mostly immobile to help prevent blood clots. It’s given as an injection. Into your belly. Comparing Lovenox bruises every morning in Rehab became, I imagine, like comparing tattoos in prison.
“Too bad you came in on a holiday,” Robert said, “you won’t meet the real therapists until Tuesday.”
“I’m just happy to finally be doing something,” I said, still caught up in my cheerleading camp optimism despite my newly bruised belly.
They told me the therapist for my first session would come get me in my room and started to push me back that direction, I was happy for the break because my butt was already sore from sitting in the wheelchair for the past half hour. “Wait!” a nurse called. “It’s Saturday weigh-ins.” They pushed me over to a square and stopped. I was trying to figure out how I was supposed to get out of the wheelchair to get on a scale when they said “already done, we just subtract the weight of the wheelchair. You’re all set. 92 pounds.”
Holy shit. “92 pounds? I weigh 92 pounds?” The nurse checked her math and nodded.
“What did you weigh before?”
“I think about 123?” I said, still floored.
It was May 26th. Between May 3rd and May 26th, I had lost over thirty pounds.