I first heard about the famous Rehab “field trips” during my first week in the ward. Someone asked me if I was going that week and I stared blankly wondering what I had missed. Then, I started panicking. Those first few days were rough as the deficits got tallied and I’d had more than my fair share of trouble. Did I mess up? Are they not letting me go because I got in trouble? It was only after I met Robyn, the Recretional Therapist, that it was finally explained. Each patient went on one excursion prior to release, normally the same week as their release. Trips took place on Wednesday morning and the ward all but cleared out as most of the therapists attended these excursions, too. There had to be a 1:1 ratio of staff to patients.
I had been part of a special “meeting” on Monday where all of the patients who were going met with Robyn to decide on where to go. They had kind of a standard rotation of places they frequented. They weren’t glamorous or exciting. I remember Billie’s field trip had been to Kroger. My week, we went to Target. They paired each person with one of their therapists depending on their greatest deficit. For instance, if a patient was struggling with cognitive and communication issues, they would be paired with their Speech Therapist. I was paired with Cheryl, my Physical Therapist. I remember someone saying that our group was particularly interesting because there were several of us going without any aids, as in no wheelchair, walker or cane. Bonnie was in my group and I remember we were both terrified of not having the wheelchair with us and were wondering how we would possibly manage to get through a two-hour trip without one.
As we boarded the Riverside Hospital minibus (good leg goes to heaven), I couldn’t help but notice that we were quite a “special” group. There were still quite a few patients in wheelchairs and we all had those bright blue gait belts that you can see in this picture. We were walking with people in bright purple scrubs. As we parked, I remember feeling slightly mortified and wishing that I had a sign to carry that said “I HAVE A PHD, DAMMIT!” But there was no more time to worry about that as I had bigger fish to fry, mainly disembarking from the bus. How do I get down these stairs? Oh yeah, bad leg goes to hell. I clung to the rail and made my to Cheryl waiting for me at the bottom. She put one hand on my gait belt and walked with me into Target.
We had each been given $5 by Robyn and we were supposed to spend it to test our social/math/whatever skills. After making my requisite circuit around the store (look up, eyes ahead!), I bought a Frappucino at the attached Starbucks. It was the best thing I’d consumed in 7 weeks. Those of us who had gathered there chatted amiably as we waited for the rest of the group to finish up. Then we loaded back onto the bus. Good leg goes to heaven. The entire trip was less than two hours. We came back and went into lunch where Bonnie and I regaled Doug and Sheryl with stories of our exploits.
And my day was not over yet. This was my last official day of therapy, although they told me I might have a couple of brief sessions on Thursday morning while my discharge paperwork was processed. My ST Tracy had planned an epic test of my skills for my final Speech session. She wanted me to do a lecture. Standing in front of a white board. With images. When we had first talked about this, I had asked her what topic she wanted me to cover. She chose World War One. Thank you, Downton Abbey and War Horse. Everyone loves WWI now! That was fine with me. I teach World and Western Civ in constant rotation and that is one lecture I enjoy, except that it’s not one lecture. Well, it is in my three-hour night class, but it’s at least two 90-minute sessions or three 50-minute sessions. Tracy, of course, wanted me to cover all of WWI in twenty minutes. With images.
I wasn’t going in completely cold. I had practiced lecturing to Tracy in a couple of previous sessions, but only to her and never standing and not World War One because she wanted me to save that one for my last day. I think I had talked to her about the early Roman Empire one time and the Vikings another time. Anyway, so this was supposed to mimic a real classroom. She set me up in the Breakfast Room after the lunch crowd had left. She tried to fill the audience with therapists. Cheryl was there. Jenny had a session, so couldn’t come. Robyn was there and Tracy was there, of course. They had even hung a whiteboard from one wall and found me some dry erase markers.
I’m always awkward when I start a lecture and this was so much worse than normal. Who knew that standing and talking was so hard? Well, it wasn’t really the standing and talking, it was the standing, talking, glancing at my notes, talking, looking back up at my audience, talking, turning to write on the whiteboard, talking, writing on the whiteboard, talking, looking back down at my notes, talking, etc. Holy crap. This is hard. I never thought I had a physical job, but this is exhausting. Of course, because they weren’t actually zoned-out college students who would rather be someplace else, they started in with the questions immediately. At some point, it kicked in that this wasn’t a real class. There wasn’t any test I had to prepare them for. It was ok for us to be off track, it’s not like I was really going to teach them anything in 20 minutes. We still ran at least ten minutes over. And, true to real life “on the outside,” we couldn’t get the images to work. As I finished, Tracy hugged and congratulated me and escorted me back to my room before running off to her next appointment.
I lay there like a slug until bedtime. I think Matt came by after teaching that night to touch base since I was being released the next day. “Who knew being a professor was such hard labor?” I asked him. Two years later, I still ponder this. I still feel stilted and awkward when I lecture and wonder if I will ever get back that easy fluidity I had prior to my stroke.
It had been quite the final day of Rehab. Funny thing, about 18 months ago, I was at Target. We had moved to Clintonville by then. My youngest was being watched by a friend, so that I could volunteer during my middle son’s Kindergarten lunch as I did two Wednesdays a month. I had dropped him off early, so that I would have time for a quick Target run. I vaguely noticed a white minibus in the parking lot as I entered. Within a few minutes, I saw the telltale blue gait belts and the purple-clad therapists. They were there. The Rehab unit was there. My heart started pounding. Robyin is here! I began to search for her, knowing I didn’t have much time before I had to leave. I also didn’t move very quickly. It was November or December and my limp, which I will forever have, gets worse in the cold and this was prior to my second session of outpatient Rehab. I madly limped around Target looking for Robyn. Finally, I spotted her and limped to her as quickly as I could “Robyn!” I called and she stopped. I’m not sure if she recognized me. I wasn’t bald anymore. “It’s me, Katie. I was Patient Six, six months ago. I had the three little boys.” It took her a minute.
“YES! The professor! You gave that talk about World War One. I LOVED that!” We talked for a minute, but I knew she was busy and I had to get to school. I limped back to my minivan and clambered inside. Then I broke down and started crying. Happy? Sad? Resentful? Overwhelmed? Thankful? Yes.