Meet the Therapists

“You know what my usual breakfast is?” Lilian asked as she did every morning and then immediately answered herself. “Coffee and a cigarette.”

It was Tuesday, May 29th. I was wheeled into the Breakfast Room sporting my new Swedish belt. I immediately looked for other patients wearing them. Billie didn’t have one, but Lilian did. “You’ve got one, too. What did you do?”

“I don’t remember,” she answered, “but I’m trouble.”

“Yes, you are,” one of the nurses kidded, I’m pretty sure Amy was on duty again.

“What did you do?” Lilian asked me.

“I got up to answer the phone and fell flat on my face. Now I’m a prisoner.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Breakfast with my buddies. Anti-seizure meds and belly shots all round!

It was different today, more bustling. They brought our schedules around as they had on Saturday and Monday, but this time Germaine was there. Germaine was a Rehab tech. She was an extra pair of hands and just seemed to do whatever was needed. At breakfast, that meant checking schedules and making sure everyone knew who they were meeting and when. She also went over our menus with us. Menus? There are menus?

Turns out we were supposed to be filling out menus for the following day’s meals. This was another thing that had fallen through the cracks on the holiday weekend. Germaine gave us all golf pencils and we circled what we wanted. Then she came around and made sure we had filled them out correctly and were actually getting something we liked. If a patient couldn’t use their writing hand, she would fill it out for them. Inevitably, she had to point out the entire left side of my menu, which I never saw the first time I looked at it.

I noticed someone else at breakfast that morning, a young Asian woman in her wheelchair with her head shaved like mine. Is that Lily, the 32-year-old Billie mentioned? But she was across the room and I couldn’t get to her. I couldn’t move my wheelchair with only one working arm and foot. I saw other patients do just that, zip along with one foot and one hand, but I just ran into things when I tried. I stopped one of the nurses as she passed, “is that the 32-year-old who had the brain tumor?” I asked.

“We’re not allowed to say anything about why anyone is here. You can talk to each other, but we’re not allowed to say anything.” When I turned back to look at Lily again, someone was pushing her out of the room. I would later discover that was her husband, who came at breakfast every morning.

Slowly, therapists in their purple scrubs would enter and claim their patients for the first session. All new faces, these were obviously the “real” therapists. I don’t remember who I met first.

My PT was this impossibly tiny –even by my 5’2″, 92 pound-at-the-moment standards–young woman named Cheryl. Why, yes, this makes two Cheryls that have appeared in this blog so far and there will be a third, but I promise to spell her name with an ‘S’ even though I think that’s wrong. This Cheryl may have been teeny, tiny, but I would discover she was TOUGH. Tough in the way a therapist is supposed to be, that is. That first day was a bit misleading since she spent our entire session trying to figure out how best to strap a cushion to the seat of my wheelchair to help my bony butt. I think I must have told her about the weekend and my posture. “Yeah, we’re definitely going to have to work on that,” she said.

My OT was Jenny. Jenny was extremely no-nonsense. She rarely joked or smiled, but she exuded confidence. We spent our first sessions in my room, re-arranging everything. She wrote a whole set of instructions on my whiteboard (moving my yellow Toileting Schedule aside) aimed at forcing me to start looking left again and she explained Left Neglect to me in more detail. She asked me what the first household task I wanted to remaster was, I told her about my boys and the neverending pile of laundry. She left me towels to practice with, but I had nowhere near the movement necessary to do that yet. In fact, when Jenny inspected my arm and shoulder more closely, she was not pleased. “Subluxation,” she muttered as she probed. Between the stroke and the rapid weight loss, apparently, my shoulder was hanging on by a thread. She promised to investigate a brace or tape and, with Jenny, I had this feeling already that whatever she promised, she would deliver.

I had a team of ridiculously young Speech Therapists. They were were working together because one was about to finish her rotation at Riverside and would be leaving in a week. I think her name was Lauren (maybe). The other one was Tracy. Tracy was super quiet and let Lauren do most of the talking. This first day, Lauren spent the first session talking about my new Swedish accessory and going over The Rules. She told me that in a week or two, they might be able to re-evaluate my Swedish, but I was going to be stuck with it for a while.

She also gave me a notebook to use as my “Rehab Journal.” I was supposed to bring it with me to all of my sessions, so that I could record what we worked on. I still have it. In the front, she stapled a calendar. Looking at my chart, she went to May 3rd and wrote “came to Riverside.” She then filled my main surgery on May 8th. My second surgery isn’t on this calendar, which is why I’m not quite as sure about the date. She then took out a blank calendar for June. On June 1st she wrote “STAPLES OUT!” “Really?” I asked. I was elated. I would no longer have to adhere to the style I was calling “Frankenstein Chic.” Now if I could just get out of this belt. And pee. And use my hand. And walk.

If this entry seems more positive than my previous couple, you’re right. The Rehab Unit had transformed overnight. All I can say about that is do your best not to arrange any major medical crises, including transfers between wards, over holiday weekends.




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