Life viewed from under the sheets
By Jan Wheatcroft
I AM ALIVE! That’s what I am aware of as I open my eyes in the hospital. I remember the surgeon saying sometime back, “I don’t know if you will survive this,” but I have. Before this instance I remember that I hadn’t been feeling well for weeks. I huffed and puffed when I took walks with my friend, Helen. I made excuses such as: too fat, stomach pushing against my diaphram and then stopped walking. I decided to pay no attention to how I felt since the idea of another surgery was frightening. When I spoke to the doctor during the phone interview I said that all was fine. And then just after my 82nd birthday I was having dinner with a friend and I began to throw up and couldn’t stop. She called 911 and the paramedics arrived and took me to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. Most of the next month was a blur. I remember I was only allowed a few ice slivers to wet my mouth for days. Tubes dangled down from me but mostly I floated and lived on memories which came to me through the haze of medications and which I loved. I traveled all over again and these memories sustained me for most of the month I was in the hospital. I had a second operation with the same message given to me by the surgeon. I’d had an intestinal blockage. No wonder I couldn’t breathe while walking.
After a month I was moved to Pilgrim Place rehab center. My choice. By now I could eat real food and after some shifting away from shouting roommates, I was moved to a room of my own for a month. Sheer heaven. The best thing about being at this rehab facility besides all the good care from the nurses was the physical therapy program. They came every morning for some sort of exercise and movement. At first, I behaved like a child. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to move about or walk. I said that I wanted to be left alone. Ray wouldn’t let me. I had to walk up and down the hall using a chest high walker where I rested my elbows and pushed myself forward. I whined throughout the ordeal. I was made to walk up and down the corridor holding onto the rail and then to walk back. Then one morning Ray took me to the physical therapy room. Just to look, I said, and then back to my room. He hummed a bit and we went in. There were bike machines, weights, walking bars, and a set of steps. Before I knew it I was on the bike and was told to move my arms and legs for 15 minutes. I was horrified but I did it. I did it! I felt good. I had weights put on my feet and was shown a number of exercises to do and then I used one-pound weights to do arm exercises. The room was full of other patients going through the same routine. Some walked between the bars or climbed the stairs. The PT therapists were cheerful and friendly. They came each morning to get me into the wheelchair and take me to the room for my hourly workout. Soon I actually let go of my stubborn self and found that I enjoyed being there and looked forward to it as well. I began to feel stronger. I began to feel again. I walked the halls with a walker, and later with a cane. I learned to wheel myself around the halls in a wheelchair and felt some power coming back to me. After two months I was assessed and told I could go home. Many friends, plus my son, who came down from the Bay Area, watched over me.
At home I did my daily exercises for legs and arms, standing and sitting and using two-pound weights. Being in my own home, surrounded by my life, my art projects and the art on the walls gave me a real boost. My friend, Helen, came almost every day to walk me up and down the street, first with the walker and then with my stick. My son arranged things in my house to make it easier for me. My granddaughter made a fairy garden in my front yard and her art hung all over the house. Friends were great. They brought food, went shopping for me, washed my clothes and checked daily to see that I was okay. I had home health care for both PT and nursing, also wonderful. Slowly I get stronger and could do more for myself. I was alive.
I was glad that I chose the rehabilitation center at Pilgrim Place. The nursing care was great. Some of the nurses really cared on a more personal level and shared stories and I looked forward to their visits. I learned how to get out of bed, to stand up, and to use the bathroom. That is a powerful experience. But the best part of being there was the physical therapy, which pushed me and made me care to get better. All of the therapists were great. I feel very grateful to them all.
What I want to share with my readers is what I learned. I learned to listen to my body. This was what I was not doing, and what I hid from my myself and my doctors. I learned about the power of memories. They came and they fed me. My past came to me and I happily welcomed it. It enriched both my body and my soul. I was alive even in my bed, I had my friends and family with me as well as being totally in the places where I had found so much joy.
I write this to share my experience and hope it might be helpful to someone. Living is worth it. Getting stronger is hard, but I was the only one who could do it even if I didn’t want to. I still rebel when Helen says, “let’s walk.” That seems to be my nature. Getting old is difficult, however, to not be here would be much worse. I am out from under the sheets now, the grass is green, the air is very warm and I get up every day.