Chapter Eighteen: Rehab
Audrey readied Steve for his 10:00am transfer to the rehab hospital. I had eaten my breakfast and was ready to go when suddenly the driver from the rehab hospital showed up and transfer activities were quickly set into motion. There was no time to say our final goodbyes, Steve was quickly loaded onto a stretcher and then put into the rehab van before I knew it. I gathered up my things and rushed to my car. I would never get used to the swiftness of how our world changed from one level to the next. This one was no different.
The day before, we had written thank you notes to the nurses and nurses’ assistants that we had grown to love and appreciate. I bought Audrey a gift so Steve could tell her how much he had appreciated her strength and support. He had cried. He had bonded deeply with several of the nurses and staff. It was an emotional day as we said our goodbyes, and now with great speed, we were on our way to another hospital; Steve on a stretcher in the back of a transport van and me following close behind in my car. HIs mom and sister were going back to Sedona. I would now be on my own, staying in Steve’s room full time in this new hospital. It was going to be very different from anything we had experienced so far. I was ready, at least I hoped I was.
The ride for Steve was bumpy and long. He could hardly wait to get out of that van and into a comfortable bed. I found his room as the attendants were getting him into bed. He was frazzled from the ride and wanted to cry. It was early afternoon when we arrived and because Steve was so tired we were told his rehab schedule would begin early the next morning. We were also given our new rehab schedule. Dinner began at 5:30 and ended at 6:30. After that, patients were in bed for the night by 7:00 to get an early start by 5:30 each morning. Steve was scheduled for three different rehab workouts throughout the day, between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There would be little time for resting. The very busy schedule along with the early dinner and bedtime was going to take a lot of getting used to. There hadn’t been much of a schedule in Flagstaff. This new hospital was very different, causing Steve a lot of anxiety. It had been a long, emotional day, so the 7:00pm bedtime was exactly what we both needed that night.
There was a constant stream of hospital personnel that came to our room to welcome us; Very nice and friendly people who ran the small therapeutic hospital. The nutritionist stopped by to talk to Steve about his food goals. It was so nice to hear that Steve could actually have food goals! He still had the feeding tube in his stomach giving him his daily nutrition, but she told us as soon as he began to eat food instead of receiving it through the tube he would get stronger faster. And that was the reason, she told us, he was in rehab, to get stronger faster. So, we created his menu for the next few days, which involved pureed foods only, with the goal of eating complex foods within the week. This was exciting news. Ice water would be the next goal. Steve could hardly wait for that! He never wanted to see a glass of thickened water again!
Physical therapy began at 8:30 the next morning. Steve’s therapist was a big guy with an even bigger heart. He was going to make sure Steve would leave the hospital after our ten day stay with all the tools he needed to take care of himself. His goal was to strengthen Steve’s muscles enough that he could lift himself with his arms, which would allow him to be more mobile in a wheelchair. Physical therapy was difficult, but Steve looked forward to every session. He wanted, more than anything, to be stronger.
Discovering just how weak his body really was made Steve feel very vulnerable. It frustrated him to not be able to do anything for himself. He had always been a very self sufficient person. To not have any kind of control over his legs, his arms, or his life was scary. The entire hospital experience had been an experience of not having any control over his circumstances. He told me one frustrated day in Three West that everything had been stripped from him, his clothes, his choices, and his dignity. He had said to me, “I couldn’t leave this hospital if I wanted to because I don’t even have any clothes here. Everything has been taken away from me. I have no choice but to lay here.”
One night soon after arriving, Steve couldn’t sleep. It was around midnight after a long day of therapy and we were both very tired, but he was restless and needed to talk about his fears. The reality of his new wheelchair life was sinking in and he was completely overwhelmed by it. I sat by his bed and held his hand as he told me how difficult it was for him to give up the need to control things. Every little thing had to be done for him. He couldn’t even brush his own hair. He was frustrated, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He felt trapped and just wanted to cry.
I pulled a chair up to his bed and held his hand as we talked about what we had been through over the last two months and how the experience had changed us. We talked about how scary it had been, but also how miraculous. We knew that living in the moment was the only way to live in this new life. It was the only way we could see the daily miracles.This helped him calm down. Thinking about how far he had actually come, that he had left the hospital, he was getting well, and now all he had to do was get his strength back also gave him more peace. Steve likes to overachieve at every thing he does, so we talked about what it meant to push hard in his workouts without trying too hard to achieve his goals in such a short period of time. Finding that balance was essential for rebuilding muscles. Our talk turned to our love for each other and the strength it was giving us to go through this ordeal. It was a deeply intimate talk; A middle of the night confession between two people who love each other. I had deeply missed those intimate times of connection. Our world expanded a little more that night.
I went to every therapy session I could to watch Steve regain his strength. He was always enthusiastic about each session. He worked hard and thanked each therapist each day for their time with him. We both felt such appreciation for their knowledge.
Speech therapy was also part of Steve’s daily workout. His throat was rapidly getting stronger. He ate breakfast each morning with the speech therapist so she could determine how well he was swallowing his pureed food. One morning I rounded the corner to see Steve being wheeled to his room by the speech therapist. He had a huge smile on his face. He could hardly wait to tell me what he had eaten for breakfast. He blurted out, “You’ll never believe what I ate this morning! Pancakes! I had pancakes!” I cried. He had finally gotten to eat something besides pureed food. His food world had just opened up to all kinds of possibilities.
Each day his food list got longer. Bacon was two days later. I went to Trader Joe’s and bought him every kind of snack he wanted to have in his room for midnight snacking. He was so thin, the nurses wanted him to eat constantly, now that he could. This was the best news we could have gotten until one day when he met me in the hallway after breakfast. He excitedly told me he had been able to have a drink. “Ice water!”, he said. “Can you believe it? I had ice water! And, I get to have it every day!” I will never forget the look on his excited face. Life had just turned a new corner.
It was always the small things that became the big things for us. That was what rehab was teaching us about our new life.