Drill Sergeant, et al

You know those people who compare everything they’re doing now to things they did before?  And the things they did before were always so much better?  (Ex: Oh, I like this bakery, but the bakery in my hometown made the MOST delicious cupcakes.  They were so fresh and yummy.  But, I mean, these are good too…….)  There’s a word to describe those people: annoying.

I hate to admit it, but I am one of those annoying people.  I hear myself doing it, and I can’t stop it.  The words spew out of my mouth before I can shut it.  Before I can even think to shut it.  But, to be fair, I find myself only really doing it (that I notice anyway) when it comes to my rehabilitation.  This is so not fair to my current physical therapists.  They’re really great.  I see them two to three times a week and they push me and encourage me.

The problem is that I had the benefit of going to the best in-house rehabilitation facility in the world.  I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.  Possibly it was in the reviews I gave them.  But no matter, it was the best.  I was there for a little over four weeks.  I went in a crying, sniveling, scaredy cat.  (I left in a similar state, but that’s beside the point.)

Drill Sergeant:  My main physical therapist was often referred to (by me) as the Drill Sergeant.  Sometimes, when he was especially cruel, I referred to him by other names.  But, that was usually under my breath or after he was gone.  Also, besides the point.  He was seriously the best though.  He pushed me and did not let me get away with any of my normal tricks (read: trying to fake through exercises to just get them done with).  I remember one set in particular when I got stuck on the number 6 because he kept. making. me. do. it. over. and. over. and. over.  If it was sloppy, redo it.  If it was weak, redo it.  If he wasn’t paying attention, redo it.  I used my never fail trick of crying in frustration.  He let me sit for a minute to calm down.  Then he made me redo it.  I know, you’re thinking why was he the best.  It’s because even though he put the “UGH!!!” in “tough”, he was super fun and hilarious.  He cracked jokes while torturing me and made it somewhat fun.

Dr. S: Because Drill Sergeant seemed to always be on vacation or on days off, my other main physical therapist was Dr. S.  She was the complete opposite of Drill Sergeant.  While Drill Sergeant was crazy hyper and silly, she was mellow with an awesome dry sense of humor.  She pushed me just as hard and was always quick to answer all of my technical “But why?” questions.  She was a PhD which, I think she should have bragged about more.  Seriously.  If I had my doctorate, I’d probably throw that into any conversation several times.  “Would you like bread on your table?”  “Well, since I’m a doctor, yes.”  See, it works very naturally.  Dr. S and I also had a ton in common, which probably also led to me liking her so much.  We had the same first name.  We got married on the same day.  She often vacationed (and got proposed to) in the city where I live.  She’s from Chicago and I love the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Her husband is English and mine speaks English.  See, the similarities are endless!  We’re practically the same person.

All of the other PT’s there were amazing as well.  I worked with just about all of them.  And the aide’s were great too!  They all got used to my emotional roller coaster of a recovery and were quick with the support and encouragement or with the kleenex.  I’m surprised none of them obtained stock in Kleenex.  Seriously, I cried a lot.

[Sidenote: My OT’s were so amazing that they will get their own post later on.  I mean, the people who gave me my first shower after 2.5 weeks and taught me how to pull on pants while sitting on a toilet deserve their own post for sure.]

When I was an inpatient, I was in therapy 1000 hours a day.  Ok, I think it was really 3-4 hours, but it felt like 1000.  I was always drained by the end.  OT started out fun.  They brought in Connect 4 for me to play.  Um, yes.  I can play a game.  They got more cruel from there.  Making me sit on the edge of a bed.  For a few days, that was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.  I specifically remember saying that I hang out with criminals on a daily basis for work (I’m a criminal defense attorney) and that doesn’t cause me any worries.  But they want me to sit on the edge of the bed and I was going to hyperventilate.  It’s really a very scary thing when you’re in pain, have no control of your body or legs, and can’t even feel them on the ground.  But, they got me going little by little.  They knew exactly what they were doing and how to do it.  In PT, it started out as torture.  My very first session, they tried to have me stand while strapped, buckled, barred and cushioned into a frame structure.  I stood for a “nanosecond” as that PT told me, all while crying, yelling, cussing and snot flowing.  The weird thing was that for all my freaking out, my go to reflex was to hold my breath and close my eyes.  Apparently I felt it was better to pass out blindly.  To this day, the common trend in my rehab is the command “Breathe!”  But, I eventually went from a nanosecond to an entire second to minutes.  They never pushed me more than I could do.  They mixed it up so I wouldn’t burn out.  They answered my annoying questions.  They put up with my emotions and terrible jokes.

So, it’s no wonder that at my new outpatient facility they’re going to hear repeatedly “Oh, at CS they had me do it like [this].”  Or “My PT at CS would have me do it like [that].”  You’d think they were rockstars the way I talk about them, or that they were the inventors of physical therapy itself.  But, in my limited world of rehabilitation, they are and they did.

recovery = roller coaster

The life of a paraplegic in recovery is a full on roller coaster.  Not the gentle Disneyland kind of roller coaster that is mostly plateau with a few dips and twirls here and there.  (Note:  This is not a dig at Disneyland.  I almost daily try to convince the hubs that we should be season pass holders.  I love it that much!)  It’s a roller coaster from a two-bit carnival: rickety, slow to start, not quite sure it will actually make it up the steep parts, not quite sure it will hold the weight on the down parts, nausea and tear invoking, thankful to be alive at the end kind of ride.

Illustrations:

Thursday was possibly the worst day of my post-hospital therapy yet.  I arrived at the session full of eagerness for the session ahead.  Ok, it was a 7:30am session, and I’m not a morning person.  Plus, the hubs had kept me up all night by his fog horn restoration snoring.  So, maybe it was destined to not be the greatest of sessions.  But, I was still eager.  My PT showed me this contraption she wanted me to work on.  It was part fork lift, part swing.  Ok, it was neither of those things, but that’s how I picture it in my head.  It’s a harness on this tall crane-like structure.  It’s supposed to hoist you up so you can walk.  Well, this one was broken.  Something about a dead battery.  But that didn’t stop my PT.  I pulled myself into a standing position from my wheelchair and they strapped me in.  They told me to let go with my hands.  That was fun.  I was suspended in mid-air as if on a swing in a playground.  I could handle this.  Then they told me to take steps.  My brain relayed the message to my legs, but my legs seemed to not be home.  It could be that the machine had me at a half-standing position with my legs bent at 75 degree angles.  It could be that my legs don’t work right.  Whatever it was, they wouldn’t move.  I told my PT this.  Her assistant PT then sat on the machine and moved my legs forward for me.  What was the point of this??  I can’t be in a swing with someone moving my legs for me all the time.  (Or can I??  That actually sounds kind of fun.  I could sit in the swing drinking mimosas while they so the work of moving my legs.  Note to self: rethink this whole contraption.  And buy orange juice.)  I proceeded to get really frustrated and was on the verge of leaving this session.  They unbuckled me from the machine by literally unbuckling the snaps and letting me slop down onto my wheelchair.  I then asked to use the normal support walker that I like to use.  We tried that.  I took a few steps and had to stop.  The assistant PT was still trying to move my legs and was more in my way than I needed her to be.  I’m stubborn and independent and like to do as much as humanly possible.  I sat down again, feeling the burn of tears I was fighting back in frustration.  I kindly (read: not sure of my exasperated tone) asked her to not move my legs and let me do it.  We tried one more time and I walked about 15 feet.  I was so tired from all the failed attempts that I couldn’t do more. And beyond frustrated.  Have I mentioned that I was frustrated?  My PT told me to not worry about the bad days, as she jumped up and down, did ballerina twirls and plies, the running man, and any other move that required moveable, workable legs.  Ok, she really didn’t do any of that.  She just stood there.  But when you’re frustrated that you can’t walk, someone even standing seems like an amazing and enviable feat.

Thursday afternoon I received a call that a session on Friday morning opened up.  I jumped at it.  I didn’t want to end my week on a bad note.  Friday morning I went (at a more reasonable time of 9:30) to the session with my folks who had come down to see me.  We strapped on the leg braces and I was ready to go.  We had my normal support walker and a path with no obstacles.  I need nothing else in life.  I popped up out of my wheelchair, steadied my legs below me and was off.  10 feet.  20 feet.  25 feet.  I got to the end of the path and had to make a turn.  I made the turn at a very wide angle.  The kind of wide turn like big rigs have to make which necessitate the signs on the side of their trucks to not try to sneak by on their right.  But I made the turn and kept going.  My PT was in front of me rolling backwards.  I informed her that there was an abandoned wheelchair behind her that she was going to roll into.  Another PT in the room thought I said I needed a wheelchair and, clearly freaked out that no one was going to help me, literally ran over to say I needed a wheelchair.  That was very nice of her.  But I didn’t need a rest.  I was ready to keep going.  They cleared the obstacle and I took another step.  Apparently a few seconds of stopping made my legs think it was break time.  They didn’t want to move.  Not exactly sure how long I went, but it was great (read: fast with big strides).  My PT then informed me that turns were actually harder than going straight.  Break time was over and I made the trip back.  Then came a turn.  My legs, remembering that they were just informed that turns were hard, decided they needed another break.  I firmly believe that ignorance is bliss.  If I know something is hard, I will dwell on it.  “Mental block” is my middle name.  But, I made it back to the starting point, and probably did about 60-65 feet in great, big, normal strides.  My PT told me that now she wants me to go slower to work on form.  I told her that that is harder.  Apparently she knew this.  (Reminder to self: take her cookies at next session so she won’t be as hard on me.)

The point of all this is that one day I’ll have the worst session and the next I’ll have the best session.  It’s hard to remember this in the midst of a bad session.  And in the midst of a good session, it’s hard to think of anything except for sheer exuberance.  Hence, the roller coaster.

97 days into recovery

Today I am at 97 days after my surgery.  I can’t tell if time has flown by or dragged excruciatingly slow.  When I was in the hospital, it dragged.  Sometimes I think it actually went backwards.  I felt hopeless, like I was never getting out.  I’d look at pictures of my dogs and think that it had been forever since I had seen them and forever more until I would see them again.  I genuinely worried that they would forget me.  Since then, I have days that fly by and days that crawl.  I guess that’s to be expecting.  It’s tough because I have never been a patient person.  I want to be up walking.  In my mind, I could get up and walk across this room right now.  Clearly my legs just aren’t getting the message. 

This morning I had physical therapy.  After strapping my legs into braces and ace bandages, I was able to walk for about 60 feet.  I look like a drunken sailor when I walk.  I can’t make the walker go straight.  The physical therapist I worked with today kept forgetting to move the walker for me.  The audacity to make me do it all myself.  Ok, I guess that’s part of the therapy part.  I’m always saying I want to do things for myself.  It’s just unfortunate that I kept pushing the walker into the wall, rather than walking in a straight line.  (Hence the drunken sailor remark.)  By 60 feet, I was pooped.  I’m pretty sure that 60 feet equals 2 miles.  Uphill.  In mud. 

Last week at this time, I could only walk 50 feet, broken up into 20 feet and 30 feet.  The week before that 50 feet broken up 15, 15 and 20.  Today it was 20, 20 and 20.  Beyond that, my legs were remarkably less wobbly.  Before it was like a baby giraffe trying to figure out these new stilt-like contraptions below my body.  Now they’re more like al dente spaghetti: not quite hard but not exactly a limp noodle. 

97 days in and however many more that it takes ahead of me.  Better than I was yesterday and not as good as I know I will be tomorrow.