No, not that kind of Rehab. The only substances I’ve ever abused have been caffeine and chocolate, and so far they’re still legal. The Rehab I was sent to specialized in intensive therapy after surgery, accidents or illnesses. I wasn’t too happy about being there, having assumed I’d return to my apartment directly from my stay in the hospital. No such luck!
As it happened, my room at the facility was just across the hall from the rear exit door. It didn’t take me long to work out an escape plan just in case. I eavesdropped on the exit code for the door, memorized it, and planned my get-away.
No matter that I couldn’t walk 5 feet, even with a walker, I would somehow manage the 20 or 30 feet to the door, get it open and then … well, that’s where my plan kind of fell apart. It was obvious that I’d need an accomplice, and everyone who might help was so relieved to know I was in a safe place that I couldn’t ask them for assistance.
O.K., I was stuck for awhile, at least until I came up with a better plan. There was nothing to do but co-operate. When I learned that the therapists were the ones who evaluated a patient’s progress and made the decisions as to when each person was ready for discharge, I became the most co-operative patient they’d ever had.
I’d like to say that life quickly settled into a routine and time flew by. No such chance, not in Rehab. For starters, the entire building was in the process of a full remodel. The noise and confusion were awful. Workers drilled, hammered, sawed and toted, back and forth, in and out. It’s hard to say who was the most frustrated, attendants, patients or the hard working contractors. Any nursing facility is noisy and this place was no exception, even without the construction. Looking forward to a restful night’s sleep was a daydream turned into a nightmare.
The nurses’ station was always noisy. There were patients who cried, yelled and snored loudly. Insomniacs spent the night phoning their insomniac friends.
We had one elderly gent I called “The Bull Moose.” He could be counted on to begin his racket about 10:00 p.m. Just as the rest of us dozed off, a loud “M-B-W-A-A-A-H!” jolted everyone awake. This was followed by a long string of gibberish, then a rhythmic slapping sound, repeated over and over until the aides were able to get him quieted down. I don’t know what they did, triple sedatives, pillows over his face or a big hammer swiped from the contractors. I didn’t care as long as it worked.
The night people, those kind, hard working aides who answered our calls at all hours, would quietly loom over us as they turned our lights on. What a shock they were! For some reason, management scheduled the strangest, most bizarre looking people for the late shifts. Spiked pink or purple hair, reeeally looong spikes, facial metal hanging wherever possible, tattoos filling in the empty spaces, and the most outrageous clothes were all part of the look. Spooky!
I wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating or waking from a nightmare when an apparition with a heavily tattooed arm and neon green nails would lean over to hand me a glass of water at 2:am but there was always a sweet smile and a kind word from each of them.
I particularly disliked the Jack Nicholson look-alike who nudged my shoulder for a 4 a.m. pill. He seemed to have stepped right out of “The Shining” with his knit cap rolled down to his eyebrows. I’m sure he deliberately cultivated the leer to go with it. What a creep!
Modesty and privacy have no place in Rehab. Walking to one of the shower rooms with the tails of your gown flapping in the breeze was bad enough, and by the way, why did we always have to pass the lobby and the main recreational area to get to the showers anyway? I felt like I was the day’s entertainment.
A young man escorted me on one of the shower trips, and hid himself behind the curtain as I scrubbed away. Ninety year old curves aren’t where they used to be, so I wondered if he was protecting his own delicate sensibilities or mine.
But nothing was quite as embarrassing as having a big burly aide stick his head in my room while my roommate and I were each busy with other people. His voice would boom out “Had a bowel
movement today?” as he fixed his eye on me first. At my timid nod he’d check my name off his clipboard (adding “Big or little?” then “Hard or soft?”) and I’d cringe with embarrassment. My roommate got the same treatment, leaving her as red faced as I was.
The toilet facilities were very unpleasant. My roommate and I shared a small restroom with two elderly gentlemen. The connecting doors had no locks and I quickly learned to jam my walker up against the door into their room, kind of an early warning system. They’re probably still telling stories about the two finicky old biddies they had to share with; we certainly have our stories to tell on them.
Mealtime was an adventure. The food was good most of the time, not great but good. The adventure lay in carefully filling out a menu the night before, then waiting to see what would turn up on our trays. Our chef took his duties very seriously, committed to seeing that every patient was given the proper nutrition. If he thought oatmeal and milk weren’t a complete breakfast he would pile on toast and a serving of canned pears. Is there anything more bland than a canned pear? He’d often add sausage, hash browns and scrambled eggs, a breakfast fit for a lumberjack, not a wimpy old lady recovering from an illness.
My lunch order was usually soup and milk. To this he would add some form of bread, the veggies of the day, perhaps a sandwich, often a container of salad dressing but never a salad, and always a dessert, usually his favorite canned pears. Bleah! Dinner was the real adventure, bearing no resemblance to what we’d ordered, even though our name and room number were always plainly printed.
Chocolate frosted brownies were occasionally on the menu and we eagerly ordered them each and every time, but no matter, neither my roommate nor I ever got a brownie. We took that personally, wondering if our weekly weigh-in had anything to do with it.
The day I passed my finals with the therapists, when I walked 600 feet in 6 minutes (with a walker, but Hey! Whatever works) I couldn’t have been happier. The good news was that I could go home in two days. In fact, I think I must have gone slightly bonkers, being still delirious the next day when I fell flat on my back across the walker! Unbelievable!! My only thought as I went down was “I’m doomed! I’ll never get out of this place now.”
As things turned out, two capable nurses set me back on my feet after a thorough going over, took my vital signs every fifteen minutes for several hours, and set me free after a stern lecture on the necessity of setting the brakes each and every time I used a walker. I didn’t even get a decent bruise out of my fall.
So was it all worth it? I’ll let you know as soon as I finish these brownies. I’m making up for lost time, the best part of being home.
And that door code is 1379, just in case you ever need it.