A Day in a (Rehab) Life
A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE ON HIS SURVIVAL
While rummaging through a box of used notebooks the other day, I spotted a black, pocket-size 3-ring binder buried on the bottom like a sunken Spanish galleon. Having a hunch what it was, I began unloading the box with the urgency of Paula Deen wolfing down a glazed-donut burger.
And there it was, my old Rusk Institute Outpatient Rehabilitation schedule that I carried like an extra appendage for the better part of two years. It contained therapy class times, room numbers, Access-A-Ride information ... everything I needed to navigate Planet Rehab. It was my pre-smartphone stroke GPS, and without it I was adrift like George Clooney in “Gravity.”
I cracked open the binder, which hadn’t seen the light of day since 1998, and instantly came under the spell of déjà vu. I found myself back in a wheelchair trying to motor one-handed from class to class, continuingly banging my head on those ever-present wall-mounted Purell dispensers hanging throughout Rusk’s fun-filled hallways.
8:30 AM: Psych Therapy — Forget the coffee. Nothing kick-starts your day like diving into the deep end of the Freudian analysis pool. Sigmund claims the best way to dissolve all my worldly cares is to blame my mother for everything ... the sluggish economy, global warming, the Red Sox in last place, and best of all — my stroke!
10:00 AM: Physical Therapy — A perfect follow-up, assuming this was your typical health club workout, because after talking about your mother for an hour you need to blow off a little steam. But this was less Zumba and more Bataan Death March. We stroke survivors were forced to hike over an endless obstacle course of ramps, stairs and two-by-four bridges. At the end I wanted my mommy — or to go back to Psych where I could at least talk about wanting my mommy.
1:00 PM: Cognitive / Speech — Here I discovered if there were enough live neurons still left in my brain to remember what the phrase “The glass is half empty” means. Fortunately, there were, but apparently not enough to pick out the prepositions in a paragraph from a New York Times article. I knew they were there, but to my eye all those nouns and verbs camouflaged them. Sure, I used them when I wrote and spoke, but when I read, my brain translated like Tonto from the Lone Ranger: “Secretary State decide have pow-wow, kemosabe.”
2:30 PM: Group Therapy — What better way to end the day than mingling with the brain-injured discussing our, well, injured brains. Think boisterous happy hour where a few too many martinis have been consumed and everyone’s stepping on each other’s conversation. Yet this is where I shined. The facilitator let me open every session with a joke and suddenly Group became my stage. I’d labor for days on one bit. The best part was I always killed. Of course, I’m not sure if they thought I was really funny or if it was just lability. Reflex laughing or not, who cares? I was back performing, doing what I loved and it was a start.
English novelist L.P. Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” I had let the memory of those days sneak away like socks in a dryer. But discovering that old rehab schedule gave me one of those rare chances to go back and find out what I lost — and more importantly, what I gained.
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