Here’s the thing about being in the hospital: either you’re on the verge of dying, or you’re on the verge of dying.
I mean, either you have so many tubes sticking in and out of you, and doctors and nurses poking and prodding and assessing and prognosticating and muttering that you’re about to croak, OR everything has been patched up so neatly and so well that there’s nothing left to do except wait for the doctor to finish talking on the phone so he can tell the head nurse so she can tell the nursing assistant so she can tell the orderly so he can get a wheelchair so he can wheel you out the door to physical therapy before you keel over from boredom.
The best part about going to P.T.—the best best part—is that it gets me away from the television. You’d think I’d appreciate the change in scenery, the chance to stretch my legs, someone with an intact brain to talk to perhaps, but all I care about it getting away from the television.
That roommate of mine? The 75-year-old living in sin with her boyfriend? Lipitor, Lipitor, Lipitor? She keeps the television on all the time. To Fox News.
All. The. Time.
The television is attached to the wall opposite our beds, near the ceiling. There’s a speaker built in to each bed. For some reason, mine won’t shut off. She is hard of hearing and keeps cranking the volume. Every time she leaves her bed, I turn off the television. She never takes the hint. I ask her to turn it off. She leaves it off for five minutes.
Fox News. All. The. Time.
P.T. for me consists of trying to walk with a walker. Yes, it has tennis balls cupped over the feet. No, I am not wearing two hospital gowns. I am wearing my own clothing. Well, sweat pants and tee shirt. And a gait belt.
A gait belt is a long strip of cotton webbing that gets buckled around your waist so the therapist can grab hold of you should you start to fall. Like the diapers, they’re built for two, so there’s a lashing and whipping of the extra stuff every time one goes on.
And they come in different colors. I don’t know if the color is significant, like a karate belt. Some people had fluorescent orange ones. I was sure I would get one of those, since I was still a FALL RISK. But no, I got an ordinary white one. Maybe the P.T. department didn’t prejudge.
Walking with a walker was hard. I found that I could not talk and walk at the same time. Being brain injured made that impossible. As near as I can reproduce it, this is how my brain felt when my therapist asked a question while I was trying to move my left foot:
which, loosely translated, means, “Can you lift that foot higher?”
But at least I couldn’t hear Fox News. All. The. Time.
My walk ended in the rehab unit’s cafeteria. This room has five big round tables flanked by sinks and refrigerators and a television. There are some magazines to read, mostly old copies of Arthritis Today and the hospital’s in-house monthly. We’re supposed to hang out here and chat. My therapist sat me down and got me a cup of ice water. At the table with me were two younger men, the only other residents who were younger than I am. We were the only people in the room.
I had just a split second to decide, before the therapist disappeared: did I stay with these two guys who were sitting two feet from a 36-inch T.V. watching some program featuring men with long bushy beards, lots of beer cans, and alligators, or did I go back to Fox News (which, for a split second of that split second, became one in my damaged brain, one huge bushy-haired beer-swilling no-new-taxes reptilian newscaster spewing about flecks of Obamacare), a decision so critical to my future that I was driven to my feet with all the urgency I could muster (took three rocks back and forth, as I recall, and a push off with both hands, and I had to grab the table).
“WAY!” I screamed. It was a strangled, warbled, garbled, indistinct, plaintive scream, but a scream nevertheless.
“Yes?” said the therapist as she turned back towards me.
“I want to go home,” I whispered.