If I could just go back in time
Wouldn’t change a damn thing in my life
Love the dumb things we do when we’re young
But the best is yet to come..
An ambulance was used to transport me from the Intermountain Medical Center to the HealthSouth rehabilitation facility. The biggest challenge was getting the arms off the wheelchair. My scrotum had swollen after the accident, to the point that it was the size of a cantelope. The arms on the wheelchair forced my legs together, which resulted in ridiculous pain. But…we managed.
Arriving at HealthSouth, I was taken aback by the woman that initially greeted me. She saw I had a catheter, and began telling me (remember, I’m pretty drugged at this point) that because of my catheter, they couldn’t take me. They don’t take people that are catherized. Wow. I’m stunned. Only the day before, HealthSouth had sent a representative to IMC to determine whether I could be admitted or not, and it was obvious to her that I had a catheter when she examined me for admittance. It seemed like the classic “What engineering designed, what the factory built, what the salesman sold, and what the customer ordered” story. No one seemed to be clear on what should be taking place.
Once again, Mannie to the rescue, and he made it clear that their initial evaluation had included my catheter. Meanwhile, I was content to lie on my back looking at the puffy clouds in the sky outside the rehab facility.
Arriving in my room (directly across from the nurses station so I knew I couldn’t get away with much), I was then met by my first therapist. She was quite a character (or caricature). She was perhaps 50 years of age, maybe 140lbs, tiny waist, spray on tan, size 88 DDD breasts. I found myself wondering if she could see me when she stood straight up. It didn’t take long for her to launch into a discussion of how dangerous skydiving is, and how I shouldn’t have done it, and yadayadayada. Hey lady, I’m here to rehab, not receive a lecture on the dangers of jumping out of an airplane from someone who’s never done it.
I think this bed was made during WWII and was bought from the DRMO. It’s hard, rickety, and when it bends at the waist I can feel the metal beneath the fold in the mattress. In other words, uncomfortable as hell. In fact, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I have a hematoma that makes it look like I have another butt cheek. And it hurts. Very bady. The nurse offers me an ice pack. I demand a pain killing shot. “We don’t do injections here, not without a doctor in the hospital….” Holy crap! I’m screaming in pain. I truly want to die.
Oh my god, I truly, sincerely wish I could die. The pain is so intense, I’d rather break my pelvis again.
And there is nothing they can/will do.
The next night, Sargeant Mike Miller visits. I’m grateful to see him and his gifts of photography magazines, games, and some snacks. He’s truly an awesome guy from the Air Force, and a skydiving buddy. The hospital decides they’re going to move me to an air bed. Six nurses try to figure out how they’re going to get me from bed A to bed B. Sgt Miller quietly says “I have a suggestion.” The head nurse says “Thank you Airman, but I think we’ve got it under control.” He responds with “Yes maa’m but just for information, I’m a medic with the (I forget which unit he mentioned from Hill AFB). She snaps to attention and says, “Yessir. What was your suggestion?” He makes it, and by god, it worked. Flawlessly. With his help, the six nurses were able to transfer me from bed to bed without rolling, without backboards, without undoing any of my IV’s, catheter, or monitors. It was a highlight of the night. My good friend Tiffany was on “Spot-watch” and stayed with me that night, and I’m sorry that she had to witness a night of painful crying. Not only was my hematoma huge, but my left foot felt like it was on fire, raw flesh that not even a sheet could touch. Thank you Tiff, for being an ear, for babysitting me, for listening to my fears and woes, and most of all, holding my hand while I was in serious hurt.
The next day, they started my “therapy.” Consisting of lying on a piece of wood with waxed towels under my hands and feet, they started me making “snow angels” on the wood. It hurt, and they kept me working 5 hours a day making these silly angels, lifting my feet, etc.
They put me on a two-rail system to see if my arms could hold my lower body in preparation for crutches. My schedule called for me to start working with crutches in 10 days. 10 days seems like an eternity at this point.
Joey Allred visited me this night, and if you know Joey, you know you can’t prevent yourself from laughing at him. His attitude defines “positive” and he gives me the kick in the emotional ass that I needed at this point. After wheeling all around the outside of the building (my first outdoor expedition since being injured) and after nearly dumping me in a sewer drain, we headed back to my room where the nurses were just a tad consternated at how late we were coming back. Joey had them laughing in a few moments tho, so all was well.
Joey hangin’ with me at HellSouth
The next morning brought more snow angels. BOOOOOOORRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNGGG… I was grateful for my iPod during these silly sessions. I expected pullups, jumping jacks, tummy crunches, weight lifting. Oh yeah…my legs don’t work and I can’t put any pressure on my pelvis for another seven weeks. But I think we can do better than snow angels on smooth plywood with waxed cloths, can’t we?
My therapist was working two or three other patients at the same time, and wasn’t paying close attention. Off to the left of my therapy deck were a pair of crutches. I slid myself to the edge of the therapy deck and pulled myself up to a sitting position. Mentally preparing myself for the possible collapse, or over compensation with forward motion, or….whatever else, I knew I *had* to try. I had to see if waiting 10 days for crutches was really necessary. After all, Utah is the most red of the red states. Conservativism is the norm, right?
I needed to hurry, before Katherine noticed what I was up to.
Since the crutches were shorter than what I actually needed, it was going to be tough to do very well without the proper leverage but ” run for it, go for it, dive in head first……” and so I did exactly that. And found myself standing for the first time in two weeks. Albeit with only my right foot on the ground, but my left leg was zero-load bearing anyway.
Standing still, I checked out the grips and rubber tips to be sure they’d hold me. The shoulder pads were a good 6-7″ too short, but for what I have in mind, they’re perfect.
A three-legged pregnant sow would have demonstrated more grace; I looked like Frankenstien in ‘Gene Wilder’s “Young Frankenstien” when I started to move, but since I’ve had crutches at various points in my life in the past, it was mostly like riding a bicycle; once you learn you never forget.
Then Katherine caught on to what I was doing. She was practically screaming “Stop! Sit down, you’re not ready for those yet.. You’re going to hurt yourself!”
There was no where to sit (if I’d ended up on the floor, it would take at least two additional people to get me up to my wheelchair), so I turned around towards my snow angel deck and slowly sat down.
The lecture was far more painful than any fall would have been, I think. All this crazy stuff about insurance, falling down, doing more damage, going too fast, yadayadaya…..
When we went back for the afternoon session, they put me in a wheelchair and backed me into a Bowflex machine that was limited to 100 lbs. At least it was more exciting than snow angels on wood. Again, Katherine turned her back on me, and this time, it was easy to roll over to the room where they stored crutches. I grabbed a pair and started walking with them. By the time she’d noticed me, I’d gotten up the stairs and stood there to catch my breath. About that same moment, Katherine noticed me, and sentenced me to return to my room. Dr. Vickroy was summoned to speak with me, and he asked me to please “ease up” on the staff and obey their “program of progress.”
I found myself dreading the remaining 2.5 weeks I had remaining in my time at HellSouth. Dr. Vickroy told me I needed to be able to shower myself, dress myself, get into a wheelchair myself, get on/and off a toilet myself, and maneuver on a walker and/or crutches before I’d be allowed to go home, and they have a proven, successful program that will get me where I need to be.
Okay…I’ll be good, I’ll do just what you want me to do.
This night was the turning point for me. I was scheduled to visit my urologist the next morning to have my catheter cleaned and body checked out. But something happened in the middle of the night. I’ll never know exactly what but it became living hell.
My left foot felt as though it was thrust into a fire with the flames burning my raw flesh. Even the slightest touch of a sheet made me scream. Ice made me bawl like a baby.
This was it. This was my threshold of wanting to continue to heal. I was now on the other side of whatever “hurt” is.
The nurses couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything to help me outside of letting me cry and lie in as much a fetal position as my leg braces could allow. My foot was hot as though it had been sitting over a furnace vent. The skin was bright red, and the shin/ankle/foot so swollen that both hands together couldn’t encircle it. Even my toenails felt like they were splitting in half. I was sure that I had other broken bones in my foot even though MRI’s and Xray’s said I didn’t. No one knew what was going on, but I knew I’d hit bottom. I had to do something. I just couldn’t see what was left in front of me, and I knew I’d left quite a wake behind me. The Grammys, Emmy’s, Telly’s, Peabody, and all the other brass didn’t mean anything. Having broken more than 30 bones in my past was nothing compared to this. Being part of the 71 Way World Record didn’t mean anything. Books, videos, life of teaching didn’t inspire me. not any more. Intense pain was the only thing I could see in front of me. It had only been two and a half weeks since my accident, and I hadn’t once become unconscious necessitating the implementation of my DNR order.
It’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m wide awake, tears streaming down my face from the pain. I can’t keep doing this. I don’t have the fortitude, can’t find the strength anymore.
Above my bed was a triangular shaped trapeze bar used for getting patients in and out of the bed. A carabiner was used to adjust the length of the chain that held it above the bed. It was connected to an arm that rose above the bed from behind the headboard. The trapeze unit was separate from the bed and on its own wheels, but the wheels were locked into place.
It dawns on me that I could raise the bed and get my head through it, hold my arms in place and then lower the bed. If I can just….
Linda was on “Spot-watch” this night, and she woke up.
It didn’t take a mentalist or a magician to know what was going through my mind at that point…
The fight that ensued caused the nurses to come running in and they sedated me to the point of being unconscious. The next thing I knew I was in a wheelchair in a van being driven somewhere.
We arrived at the IMC where they were to put a dye into my catheter so they could see if the patches sewn into my bladder were holding/not leaking. Turned out, they were fine so they sent me back upstairs. Once again, put in a van and transported to the urologist.
Doctor Waterman (what a great name for a urologist, eh?) read the report and looked at the pictures from the CT scan, and decided it was OK to remove the cathether. Holy COW did that hurt. While we were there, we showed him my foot and the hematoma on my butt. Mannie asked him about it, since my orthopoedic surgeon was out of town on vacation. Dr. Waterman felt it was a bad situation turning worse, so he ordered me back to the hospital via the ER.
Once back in the ER, they ordered an emergency CT scan, no big thing as I’ve already had a few. Except this time, either the doctor mis-wrote or the CT specialist mis-read the order. As I was lying there and had finished the CT scan, the specialist comes out and says “it’ll be a few minutes til I can give the doctor the results. I asked her if she could tell me anything about what was going on with my foot. She flipped out and told me she didn’t have orders to look at my foot.
Now…I’d already considered ending my life that morning, I’d been sedated, was groggy as hell, and this woman is literally yelling at me. I started to bawl like a baby asking her why she was so nasty with me. “What have I done to make you so angry with me? Why are you yelling at me?” She kept cussing me out so her assistant came out and asked her to let him take over. He was great, and was able to calm me down. Turns out his boss was having a bad day too, and she’d gotten cussed out from the doctor (I suspect she mis-read his order) and crap rolls downhill. She injected me with the dyes required for this particular CT scan and disappeared. Her assistant ran the rest of the procedure. They then took me back upstairs to the emergency room.
After waiting for nearly two hours for a response from the doctor, once again I’d had enough. I was tired and hungry, angry and ready to flee. I pulled my wheelchair over to my bed and slid into it, hoping no one would notice. Curiously enough, they didn’t. I started to leave the hospital and was nearly out before I was caught by Mannie, Linda, a police officer, and one of the ER doctors. I’m handed a cell phone and on the phone is my attorney informing me that I’m being Baker-ized. In other words, I no longer have the right to make decisions for myself because I’m being deemed a threat to myself.
Yeah, I guess I’ve hit bottom. I no longer have control over my life. I’m brought back to the ER where a doctor explains they can’t explain why my leg and foot are so painful, but like every other doctor, he’s happy to prescribe more drugs. I’m already a wheeling Walgreens, what the heck. More dope. Crazy.
The next thing I know, I’m trundled back on another medical transport in my wheelchair and back to HellSouth. And there is only one thing left to do. Figure this sh** out so I can get out of this hellhole and go back home.
Trying to rest in HellSouth, and it’s my last night here (but I didn’t know that at the time
When they came to take me away for my therapy the next morning I did the same thing I’d done twice before; I snagged some crutches. This time, I got all the way back to my room on the crutches. When I got there, I grabbed the walker they had for me to use. I used the walker to get myself into the bathroom and took care of my business on the elevated toilet. Next, I moved myself to the shower seat and showered, shaved, and used the seat while I blow-dried my hair.
I really wanna leave this place.
By the time I was done, it was time for my next therapy session of the day. When my therapist came to pick me up in the wheelchair, I told her I preferred crutches, and would she please be willing to sign my release form. I’d met every requirementset forth four days earlier by Dr. Vickroy.
At first she was unwilling, but I held firm. They’d set the bar, and I’d met it. There was nothing they could do for me there that I couldn’t do at home with a home-visiting therapist. I’d heal faster at home. My own bed was more comfortable. It was closer for friends to visit. The food was better at home. My “Spot-watch” friends would be more comfortable in my spare bedroom, and….the list was long. If it had been physically possible, I’d have been on my knees begging. I wanted to go home.
She agreed to sign off on my release. Holy smoke! I get to go home!!
Then she informed me that Dr. Vickroy needed to sign off on me leaving too.
And Dr. Vickroy was off that day (it was a Sunday and he was at church).
I did my best puppy-dog eyes, tried to get on my knees, and begged. And she agreed to call him.
Off we went to therapy, and while I was working out, Dr. V. showed up.
And agreed to sign me out.
Blowin’ this pop-stand
Two hours later, Linda showed up, the hospital gave me a commemorative pillow, and off to the privateness of my own sanctuary I went.
Part Three is where the real fun begins and we end up in the “now.” Stay tuned….