Thursday, October 6, 2011

Going home

The day after my surgery a physical therapist stopped by my hospital room to display my choice of walking aids: crutches, or a walker. I said I was a little worried about the crutches because of the flooring we'd used when we'd renovated the camp: the wood-look floor could be slippery. Since I wouldn't be weight-bearing on the ankle for three months he suggested I take both, and benefit from the added stability of the walker while at the camp. Dave should remove all the area rugs that were now trip hazards.

"So, let's see you use the walker," the therapist said.


Nothing phases these guys. He got me right up out of bed, hooked all my bags to a movable pole he'd push along behind me, and told me to walk to the door and back.

"Relax your shoulders, move the walker forward, and hop toward it," he said. The choreography was elementary—the trick was performing it while my foot felt radioactive with pain. I held it out in front of me where I could ensure it would come to no additional harm.

I am nothing if not determined. When my college dance students would say "I can't do it," I'd tell them their choice of words would not be honored in my classroom. They were, however, allowed to say, "I'm currently finding this movement a challenge," a response that would both improve their humor and result in some added tips and tricks from me. So I had no doubt that I'd make this walk, no matter what. But it wouldn't be pretty. Even before the edge of my roommate's bed I was wracked with the kind of sobs that make relaxing one's shoulders a challenge.

"That's good. That's enough," the therapist said, but he'd told me the door was the objective and I was only two-thirds of the way there. So I pushed through those final few hops before my return trip. This is how surgery and sleep deprivation sap you: just days before I was lifting weights and doing sprint/walk cross-training and swimming quarter-miles, sometimes all on the same day. By the time I got back into bed after this herky-jerky attempt at walking on one leg, I was completely spent.

Because of his practice in the Canadian border town of Ogdensburg, some thirty miles to the west, my surgeon conducted his rounds in the evening. I braced myself when he came in. I knew our country's health insurance philosophy as concerns hospitalizations: cut 'em and turn 'em loose. The summer before, post-Cobra, Dave and I had spent months shopping for affordable health insurance; we now spent half of his monthly pension check on a major medical policy whose attributes my memory couldn't distinguish from the sea of coverages we'd applied for.

All afternoon I lived in dread of being sent home. I even hated to hear how well my nurses and doctors thought I was doing: my vitals were great, my overall health commendable. And I'm thinking, how could I possibly survive the hour's ride back to the camp, let alone the hobble from front door to bed, which was so much longer than the one I'd pushed through that day?

My fate would turn on the words of Dr. Luc Perrier. I was sure my vitals were fluxing all over the place as he made his determination. With that French accent I was unwilling to yet label charming or hateful, he said, "So try to get some sleep tonight and I'll see you tomorrow." Charming it was: because he did late rounds, I'd have another full day to gear up for my next challenge. I let out the breath I was holding and thanked him. As he signed my chart with a flourish he repeated what he said in the ER: "But don't forget to cast me as the handsome doctor who saved your life in your next novel."

That extra day would end up making all the difference.

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