A man from the compression stocking company comes in to measure my leg for the proper fit so the swelling will go down. “I wear them all them time myself,” he tells me. I imagine him in a pair of support stockings with lacy tops and giggle, although I’m sure there’s a more masculine version he wears.
The physician’s assistant comes in next, to take the 40+ metal staples out of my leg. I grasp the side of my bed and roll onto my right side, close my eyes, and think about skiing to a Coldplay song I really like.
But my left hand, my Occupational Therapist, Bill tells me, is starting to behave like a paw and needs attention. So I relax while he massages my hand and tells me more cat stories. My own cat poster is a big hit around here. Five pictures of our cats in circles, with tiny bios about their behavior, for example, “Possum: Ranch Boss. You want something? You come to me,” or “Sofie: Exotic dancer. Often sleeps in late on mornings following a late night gig at the Kit-Kat Club.”
It’s going to take a while to actually wake my body up again. I hop-hobble up and down the halls on another, more advanced hybrid walker with two arm rests. You’d think, hopping around on a rolling walker with arm rests – no problem, right? It turns out to be grueling, sweat-inducing work. Plus I’m supposed to just touch my injured leg to the floor “for balance only.” What happens if I touch harder by mistake? I’m already starting to have nightmares that I’m home and I get out of bed and start walking a few steps until I remember that I’ve got a broken leg!
Meanwhile I’ve ended my relationship with painkillers, aka “butt plugs.” I think I can manage on Tylenol. Also, I have a few healing tips up my sleeve from a Jin Shin Jyutsu class I took once.
Wayne comes in for a training session. He’s already an expert in wheelchair monitoring, due to a childhood experience with a family member, but the 6th Floor Tower staff is emphatic in its quest to make sure I can make it in and our of our house safely. Susan has created a hybrid crutch with an armrest that they are willing to lend me. Wayne stands at the bottom of the “practice stairs” in the gym and puts his thigh between my legs behind me, causing a pleasant sensation, which relaxes me. I’m not sure whether or not this is the official technique, but we like it. The first time, I can’t even get up the first step. It’s discouraging.
“It’s okay to grunt,” Susan tells me.
I grit my teeth, grunt, cling to the railing and propel myself upwards. A stair is achieved! Then another! Wayne holds me steady and I reach the top of the staircase.
“You stud,” Susan says.
Later on we have getting-into-the-car training. Then compression stocking application.
Meanwhile, I’ve been silently plotting my Halloween plans. For the past several years I’ve played a zombie at the amazing Darkwing Manor and figure, hey, six weeks and I ought to be able to at least cane my way around. Walking jerkily? It’s already part of my routine. Tina aka The Baroness visits me and brings more chocolate. I would give anything to be caught up in the frantic rush to get the Darkwing Manor “haunt” ready this year. A few reading group women stop by, each one attempting to analyze my relationship with my husband. His most serious offense: He hollers at people who behave like assholes. Well, let me re-phrase that: He hollers at people he perceives to be assholes. He has about a 95% rate of accuracy. “We’re in good hands,” I tell them politely. And we are.
* * * * *
Friday’s the day I go home!
The next few days become a dance between hospital staff, hospital discharge staff, physical therapists and home health aides. They all want to make sure my trip home and subsequent recovery go well.
I wake up Thursday morning to delicious rain. The first big soak of the season. The kind that will put an end to fire season. I’m now staying dressed most of the day and in my wheelchair, catching up on work on my laptop. I even leave my room on my own for hot coffee and a spell in the atrium.
“I can do all the bathroom stuff on my own,” I tell Wayne proudly.
Tim aka The Baron has installed a set of safety bars in our bathroom, plus we’ve ordered one of those handicapped shower chairs. We’re old fogey-ready.
Wayne opens the car door and the warm, fragrant country autumn air is nearly intoxicating. Is it strong because it rained the other day, or am I noticing it because I’ve been in a sterile, climate-controlled hospital for two weeks? I don’t know, but I appreciate what I smell: Sweet Oregon forest.
At first, I’m terrified to get out of the car and face an uncontrolled environment. I’m afraid of the wheelchair on a slope. I dread using the hybrid crutch to climb our front steps. But Wayne seems confident. He wheels me up the walk and parks me at the top where we set the brakes. There’s a temporary worktable set up next to the front walk made out of one of our old doors and sawhorses. I try to grab it for support and the top slides.
“Use the banister,” Wayne warns.
I pull myself up out of the chair and stand next to the front porch, inhaling the sweet air. This is our home. I accept it on its own terms, which is partly a construction site. Wayne gets behind me and puts his arm around my waist. One by one, I hop up the six porch stairs until I’m at the top. Then Wayne brings the wheelchair and I sit down. He wheels me into the front door. No problem. Susan would be proud.
Inside, new plumbing and electricity have been installed on the back kitchen wall. The new windows have been framed in. We’re down to the studs in the kitchen, awaiting insulation. There’s a three-foot trough on the west side of the room where Roberto has removed the old floor to get under the house, leaving the sub-floor exposed. All of our new appliances are still on the back porch, awaiting installation.
The cats are beginning to come in from the woods. They’re wary of me. I think my wheelchair confuses them. Then again, it might be the temporary cold shoulder you get from a cat when you’ve been away.
I happily return to my position as chef. Our hotplate and microwave are on moveable carts, perfectly accessible from a wheelchair, unlike a normal stove would be. I make two small omelets for dinner. My left hand resembles a claw in a splint, but I’ve got good motion going in my fingers, thanks to Bill.
Wayne builds a small fire in the woodstove, mostly from leftover construction bits, and that’s enough to warm the place up.
I’m ready to crash by 9:00 p.m. or so… exhausted but happy to be back in my own bed. I park my wheelchair next to the bed and shuffle sideways to get in. It’s a little higher than the hospital bed, so I can slide right onto it. Wayne takes off my compression stocking and I snuggle into a nightie. Sparky and Possum climb in next to me. They’ve accepted me and my wheelchair back into the herd, apparently.
In the middle of the night, nature calls. I’m a “let’s see what I can do” sort of person, so rather than wake Wayne up, I quietly get into my wheelchair and roll past the kitchen to the bathroom. The old kitchen floor is slightly downhill due to the age of the house, making it an easy glide. I have to say, our new open floor plan is quite helpful. My wheelchair fits everywhere easily, and the sloping floor is kind of fun. It’s downhill to get to the bathroom when I’m in a hurry, and a very slight climb to return to the bedroom.
Afterwards, I wheel back and get into bed. Ya-ha!
The next day a physical therapist from Home Health Services is at the house by 11:00 a.m. He sits in our living room taking my vital signs and gets an eyeful of the gutted kitchen with its new plumbing and electric exposed. He helps me to walk a little with the hybrid crutch, gives me a bunch of paperwork and an in-home physical therapy schedule, gets me to sign his tablet and leaves.
* * * * *
The next few weeks are a series of recovery milestones mixed in with remodel landmarks. Every morning Wayne puts on my compression stocking and I climb into my wheelchair. A young physical therapist named Dan comes over twice a week to assist me in hobbling and strengthening the muscles in my right leg. "You not only broke your femur ," he tells me one day, "you broke the snot out of it." He's confident about my recovery, though.
Once my wrist-cast is removed, I report to a hand clinic twice a week until I graduate. One day I finally re-discover the muscles that lift my injured left leg and do a horizontal happy dance in my bed.
I operate my graphic design business from the kitchen table on my laptop, as my home office is up the hill, in an outbuilding way too many steps away. One significant highlight is Wayne creating invoices for me on my remote office computer while I describe, by intercom, and from memory, how to do this.
I get Wayne to drag the insulation in from the front porch and install it myself, holding onto the studs as I go, with the help of my reacher-creature. Luckily we’d done the ceiling before The Great Fall, so it’s just the walls.
Each time the physical therapist comes, the kitchen has achieved a new level of completion. We cry when the drywall guy finally comes and installs the sheetrock. I paint the ceiling from my wheelchair, covered in one of the round plastic table covers left over from our wedding, with holes cut out for my arms and head. Sorry not to have taken a picture of this. Seriously.
I never do make it to Darkwing Manor; I’m not even crutch-worthy by Halloween. We stay home and eat candy in front of the TV.
I eventually graduate to crutches and return to my office. I drive myself to the library! Our new kitchen floor is installed, we have our kitchen sink and counter, and… a new stove! I’ve spent most of the fall visualizing myself standing in our new kitchen, taking a loaf of hot, freshly baked bread out of our oven, and I finally achieve this.
But it’s time to move on in this blog and talk about other things. A fully fleshed-out novel will follow sometime in 2016, with all the hilarity that a couple dealing with a mood disorder, a major injury and a lively cast of supporting characters, while living in an ongoing construction site, can offer.
I have, however, tested most of the electronic shopping carts for the handicapped provided by stores and supermarkets in the valley, and will post a forthcoming review.