Thursday, May 31, 2007

Rehab - a bumpy ride...

Dawn breaks when the early starters put down their mugs and empty breakfast bowls. In the background the half seven news bulletin blathers away, followed by advertisements and crazy morning tunes. The therapists bring their notes of the previous day up to date, and then go to find their patients who are already awake and waiting. The pace picks up just after eight ’o clock and by nine there may have been a traffic jam or even a light crash between wheelchairs, nursing staff, visitors and walkers with disability aids…And the gym is a real ant’s nest of activity until four o’clock when the therapists sit down for lunch and to add notes to patient reports. The patients are back now in familiar and now welcome beds.

Life In a Nutshell...
For us it all ended and began with a severe head or spinal cord injury caused by an accident or maybe an aneurism. When we woke up in ICU, we might have been connected to a lifesaving ventilator and the C1 and C2 injuries are the ones that really are deep trouble at risk of infection, pneumonia and dying. Then one day we were tranferred to rehab to learn to adapt skills for a new life. Supposed to cope with it all we try to hide our fear and anxieties. TLife goes on, regardless of the fact that we may have lost the ability to walk or talk properly, make a cup of tea or get out of bed all by ourselves...

In this gym we work tremendously hard. We learn here how to accept (you never really to) and do the best we can with a mental and/or physical disability. Our bodies were broken and although we are grateful to be alive, we deal with a lot of physical and mental pain. We're damaged goods. Everything changed the day we lost our ability to be independent and it is something that will probably take a whole lifetime to adapt to. Young or old, married, single or divorced, we pine for the normality which we once had in a world we once knew. Everything seems different to the smallest proportions. People look at us differently, even if they don't realize it. Our friends, family, strangers or ex-work colleages sometimes don't know quite how to handle the situation - making light of uncomfortable situations in order to hide their shock, angst and sadness. If they only just be themselves and not pretend, it will make things a lot easier, but we all know it's not quite that simple. We are all only human after all.

Probably what annoys us most, is the assumption that we have undergone personality changes in ICU; going in Mr Brown and coming out Mrs. Brawn. Well, if some of us had brain injuries it should only serve as yet another reason why endless patience, acceptance and love is required. 'Support' in our lives becomes a magic word.

Most of us have no sensation from the hips down, or the chest… One or both arms may still be okay, and if we are lucky our hands can still flex too. When things don't go so well and our limbs won't follow what our brain tells it to do, that's when the going gets a little bit tough. We have to strengthen our upper bodies and always be on the lookout for nasty weeping bedsores as it can appear within hours. We are told not to ponder over the future too much - it takes a lot of willpower not to. There are a great many other things in the back of our minds such as our embarrassment when things don't go right or disappointment in ourselves when anti-depressions or sleeping tablets become daily companions. Our new dependency to get washed, dressed, fetched, fed and catheterized by strangers is something we'd never have imagined having done for us. There are times when we experience sudden outbursts of burning white anger at anyone in the near vicinity, especially when someone enter our bedroom without introducing themselves or explaining what they are doing there. What do they think of us, showing so little respect?

We have lots of realities to cope with: muscle spasms, medication, hospital viruses that seem to think our bodies are just great to invade. Just curling a finger around a plastic mug can be exhausting, trust me, you don't want to imagine it. Let alone living with a curdled inner state of contradictory emotions. Part of the gym excersize regime is the fun bit when we work with silicon clay to strengthen our hand muscles or build puzzles to improve co-ordination... Oh boy, it's just like when we were kids, but let me tell you something about this innocent little excersize: It can keep you busy for hours. And just as you think you finally cracked it there seems to be a missing piece. But we try and oh Lord, we really want to have a piece back of who we were before.

There are those dreaded mornings which streches into long days when one feels too tired to keep ones eyes open, days when gravity seems to pull down more than lame legs... On those days you don't feel like anything but an injured mutt that wants solitude to lick it's wounds...lie down and sleep and sleep some more. But even in this much needed escape we get haunted by the voices our therapists, food trolleys, our comrades talking to visitors or a TV playing illegally in the middle of the night... Rest is something our bodies and minds crave day and night. It is absolute bliss to have a cat nap in the dining room after breakfast or halfway through a workout in the gym.

Some days are better than others. The inability to follow a command promptly sometimes really irritate the living daylight out of us and probably our kind, diligent, slavedriving therapists too. Occassionaly the world seems to be our best friend again when things seem to get better. But soon again our minds have to conquer dull depression when spastic limbs and lethargic bodies just won't obbey and reach their target...It's an awfully lonely road to travel apart from a few sunny days; bumpy and full of hidden turnoffs, scary thoughts and deep potholes. Getting on with normal mundane daily tasks such as putting a spoon in our mouth, talking,lifting an arm or foot just above the surface, flexing a painfully clawed hand without whimpering or just to get into a standing position with numb feet going nowhere is not a picture for the weak, meek and mild...

At least we do seem to work together as a team here in the rehab gym, and we make friends here sometimes for life. We aren't completely alone and I will always hear laugther, coaxing, discussions regarding improvements and the radio blathering on as I drive by:

Okay time to get up Mr Lumber spasticity Nerves; careful now.
That’s very good Miss Thoracic Nerves! Let’s work on your balance today.
Mrs. Cervical Nerves, a little physiotherapy in bed today to keep ulcers away.
Mr tough Sacral Nerves - let’s see if there's flexion control today.
Mr Spasm the artist, you're doing great mouth-painting you know
Mr L5 - you can still wash up dishes for your wife you know...

Humerous Mr AVM (arteriovenous malformations cervical spinal cord) saying to a therapist: How's my sitting position now- do I STILL look like a Bushman???

Friday, May 25, 2007

Grevous Gigha

Recently someone asked if I was aggrieved by something. Who, me? I was shocked and silently seethed that anyone dared to connect a word so gravely GRIEVOUS to my pure existence. Pondering the word I came to the astonishing realization that it was just that: Cowboys of mindless aptitude better not unleash wild horses that do not take kindly to grievous insults.


With the flavor of grievance in my mouth, I chewed a bit on it, rolled the sticky word over in my mouth and then spat out the drags of it. Disgusting! What an utterly disreputable thing to say to anyone - it spoke spirals of columns of a mind going gaga on all sorts of whatsitnots. One single mind that missed the whole point of another human being's thoughtful mind - causing an aggrieved case scenario of drama and relatively in orderly suspense with one significant word.

So when all my energy was drained by this mere thoughtless aggravation, I sat down to write a letter. It could go to the Pope for all I cared. As long as he took this serious misjudgment of character to heart, erase the mistake and apologise whether it took taking a sabbatical or visiting a Turkish mosque.

My letter stated why I thought he might need to re-think the inappropriate remark for a being like me to be considered grievous. There might be numerous reasons why he came to the wrong conclusion and perhaps he should consider the following:

Perhaps this annoying state of mind of mine, wrongly named grievous, had to do with winter. A soft syllable word with one little sting in the 'i'. Associated with inches of snow, icicles with frozen taps and washing machines, arthritic joints and goose bumps with in-grown stubs and in-grow toenails that hurt more like anything in the cold. Inadequate insulation with regards to house and clothing, scary creaks and bangs on the roof, objects flying and some even sparking dangerously in a panic manic-state of emergency set alive by a vicious storm - the Cape of Storms they call it for nothing.

Before the storm, the Devil and Van Hinghs did the usual sneaky stoking of clouds spectator thing on Devils Peak. One we have seen before and mostly ignore since it gets too much fear and attention than they deserve. We sat outside like most weekends, under a wide branched tree baptized the unfortunate name of Ruddie-Geoff&Gina. Sipped mellow merlot and Shiraz in an area of unlimited quantity and grape variety. Signs of a brewing storm went over our heads in the orange glow of early evening - unusually warm for that late in autumn. A mere few hours later The Devil and Van Hinghs added the final drop to the potion and a dragon like storm snaked onto the peninsula, swooping with a loud shriek over those who hid in and under their beds and broom cupboards.

So you see, I wrote, why I may have seemed aggrieved. Most storms don't make all people deliriously happy. As the ferocious wind hooted, howled and eventually ate everything in its way, I decided it would be better to go outside. Face its wrath and maybe it would go away then. I tell you, altogether it was a mean mess in and outdoors. The cats had no idea whether they should eat or sleep under covers and the dog thought that howling at the strange howls outside would make it all better, but it did not either. You should have seen the flickering lampposts boogie - none has ever managed to do that on Strictly come dancing. Not yet anyway. By then it was nearly too late to start drinking G&T as it only meant more thirst later on. I was shocked to see what was happening outside. Methodically the wind masterly peeled off women’s dresses and tagged along with it men like excited kites on strings. Oh it was something to see, or perhaps not.

To get back to the distasteful mention of the word with the gravitation of a mud clot...GRIEVOUS. Of course disastrous places such as Florida have it much worse, all of their trials and errors a big-much badder...bladder cursing issue (no politics mentioned). As for your accusatory comment about GREVOUS, It JUST SO HAPPENED that I stood outside in this whooping wind when it happened. I can swear I heard the Devil and Van Hinghs' mocking laughter going from alto to soprano above hysterical and at the same time garden chairs cart wheeled across the lawn... Then a really faint noise caught my attention. Creepy. Some more weeping and creaky sounds and I pulled my neck into my shoulders and only wished I had a tortoise shell right then - but the strangest feeling got hold of me: precautionary, second sight, dejavu or dejadead but something was giving way. Where did it come from? An eerily high-pitched splitting sound exploded to my right and above me. Just like Grieg and Puccini had experienced their worst wacko stages as the symphony crescendo, so did I when this big fat tree branch came tearing down from the molten heavens. WHOOSH!!! Astonished I looked down at half a tree inches from my frozen toes - Oh. Dear. Me.

Not grievous, no you got it all wrong. The exhilaration of such events...Let me tell you; the word grievous doesn't get near any such an ordeal. So, we survived of course and half the tree as well although it does not provide anything like the shade it used to; the cats used to love it. The day after the night of the shocky horror show I obviously sent the wrong signal out with regards to your o so grievous comment.

Ahh, as for the rest of my list of misfortunes, the bit that was erased somehow just as I pressed the send button the weekend before last weekend when the storm broke:

I was very nearly hit by a tree and in shock (understatement)
Grumpy but not grievous - the storm lasted a whole round 48hours
The storm fell a tree on the holy Sunday night (bad bad bad)
I nearly died of agony looking at the garden and 911 arrived at the wrong house
Too much good wine earlier on, left with cheap box wine
Cabin fever, dog fever and cat fever; claustophobia
Freezing my buttocks off and oh yes... electricity failure was inevitable
Lots of rain, debris and squatter camps drifting our way...
Half a tree fallen, poor tree, in my yard alone
Fear as the end of the world hammered upon my roof.
Oven tripping the main switch - electrics/element/water problem?
Mobile phone STILL on battery strike, progressively getting worse
The Sharks loosing by one point against the bloody bulls (rugby)
Loosing the signal at the most vital points of the game...
Peeved cats fighting each other - empty wine box
Moping dog and me - mopping up broken vases and a decongested litter tray
No more in vino veritas - just dejathirst and desorehead
And nurturing a windblasted mother of a cold.
And remember, nearly topped off my head by half a tree...

Well then. Under the above circumstances it may then be considered purrfectly normal to get abashed when things and weekends don't go completely as one planned them, or um-hh???

It's Monday again and there's talk yet again of another storm on its way. Oh well, next weekend its us and a wacky wine weekend up country. Till then.

Yours slightly-aggrieved