I haven’t written a blog in exactly one year. What could I write about since 2020 and Covid put a big ole kibosh on my social life? Would people want to read about all the Netflix series I binged watched (like 15 seasons of Gray’s Anatomy)? Who wants to read that I now do Target pick up and Door Dash because I have become more of a homebody? Or maybe the fact that I haven’t worn pants with zippers or buttons in a year might make some fascinating late night reading. Since the past year has been more quiet, I decided to write a blog looking back at a few of my favorite tales from my time in rehab.
After becoming paralyzed (29 years ago), I was sent to Hershey Medical Center for 8 weeks of rehab. I was in the hospital over Easter, 1992. At that point I was very weak and unable to be in a wheelchair for longer than 15 minute stretches. Easter morning found me in my hospital bed washing up behind my curtain with a wash basin. I was naked… in all my glory… washing up before I could get dressed for the day. Suddenly the curtain opened and there stood a 6 foot Easter Bunny! Shocked at the sight of a large costumed rabbit, I didn’t even cover myself up. I just stared. And this bunny, equally shocked, stared right back at me. It felt like we just gawked at each other for hours! Finally I came to my senses, yelled “Shut the curtain,” and covered myself up. A few minutes later, hearing the bunny move on to my room-mate, I yelled through the PRIVACY curtain, “Are you a girl bunny or a boy bunny? And where is my chocolate?” My room-mate couldn’t stop laughing and later gave me not one, but two, large chocolate Easter bunnies!
But to this day… I do not know the gender of that rabbit!
Also during my rehab stint at Hershey, I had the best room-mate. We both had baby boys at home and were paralyzed at the same time and at the same level. We had a lot in common and really just became the closest of friends in our 8 weeks together. As paraplegics, we did not have control of our bladders or bowels any longer. Learning how to deal with that was part of our rehabilitation but we often had accidents in those early days. One day we were sitting in our wheelchairs in our room when Tammy looked on the floor and began to freak out. She saw a puddle of urine and couldn’t imagine who came into our room and peed on our floor. She was disgusted at the thought of someone peeing on our floor while we were out and was spewing her frustration quite loudly. Suddenly she looked down and noticed a wet spot on her pants and quietly said, “Oh dang, it was me!” We probably both wet our pants again laughing at the new absurdity of our lives.
One of the sweetest people I have ever met was my 1st shift nurse, Sue. She loved on all her patients and was affectionately known as Mama Sue. There was a young man, Gary, in the room next to me. He had a head injury as well as a spinal injury and wasn’t doing very well. I would pop in his room to talk to him every day as he wasn’t able to even use a wheelchair at that point. He was a funny guy who got a kick out of teasing Sue. One morning he saved the apple juice from his breakfast as he knew he had to give a urine specimen after he ate that morning. Unknowing that he had asked our 3rd shift nurse for a urine cup that he had poured his apple juice in to, Sue came in with a cup and used a catheter to get a sample. After she finished and turned to wash her hands, he switched the cups. Once she turned back around, he took off the lid and took a big swig of the apple juice. Of course she thought it was the urine and became very agitated, not sure what to do. My room-mate and I, as well as a few of the nurses, knew what he was up to and were listening outside his room. Once we all started laughing, she started hollering at all of us saying that she would not answer any call buttons for the rest of the day. (She still answered. We tested her.)
I cannot look at super soaker water guns without remembering my days at Hershey Rehab. The rehab had a team that took the patients with both head and spinal injuries on outings to get assimilated with life outside of rehab. This was 29 years ago so the ADD was hard at work but life was definitely a lot different back then. These trips were both educational on how to deal with shopping, eating at a restaurant, people’s reactions, and getting around in a new way but they were also a pleasant change from hospital life.
One night we got into a bus and went on a field trip to K-mart and a local grocery store. My room-mate and I decided to buy large water guns. I don’t know what led us to that purchase but we had joked about getting even with the residents and interns who woke us up every morning at 5am to ask us the same questions. Needle in hand, they would wake us by poking needles in our legs saying “Do you feel this?” Sarcastic responses often followed like “Didn’t you learn the definition of paraplegia in medical school?” or “No… we didn’t feel it yesterday, we don’t feel it today, and most likely we will not feel it tomorrow.”
But the morning following our K-Mart outing, we were ready for them! We had our water guns loaded under our blankets and when they pulled out their needle, we pulled out our guns and shot them with a stream of cold water saying, “No, we don’t feel that. Do you feel this?” They did not laugh like we did. The following morning there was a sign on our door that said, “Do not disturb. Let them sleep.”
Win for the water guns!
We also paged the 3rd shift nurses to blast them with water. And we took our therapists hostage until they agreed to do something fun with us. We were tired of exercising with that stupid hand bike every day!
The guns were eventually confiscated.
Win for the rehab staff!
These are just a few stories from a long time ago. My months in a rehabilitation center learning how to live my life in a wheelchair may sound like a scary, overwhelming time period. AND IT WAS.
I was very young; separated from my husband and newborn; away from family and friends; weak and adapting to a new way of life; unable to walk or even use the bathroom; and dependent on others for simple daily functions. But the people who shared this experience with me, from my roomie to the nurses to the therapists made it an experience that I will never forget. I learned that even in the saddest times, there are moments of laughter. Even when we are feel alone and isolated, there are good people who come alongside you on your journey. And when things seem at their darkest, joy comes in the morning!
Dedicated to all the people who have made me laugh! And in honor of a friend… Gary.