Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rehab, Part 1: Rock Star

After four days in the hospital, I had reached the point where all I really required was physical therapy in addition to basic human needs. So on the morning of the fifth day, my wife drove off to inspect a few Inpatient Rehab facilities. She was back by 10:00 a.m., proudly declaring that she had found the ideal place. But there was just one little unpleasant detail.

It seems that in Florida, there’s no such thing as an Inpatient Rehab center. Instead, there are nursing homes that have a resident physical therapist. Nursing homes love to fill a bed with a temporary rehab client, because insurance companies pay them far more than the Social Security of the other residents (who are also temporary).

Still, I didn’t see a downside. I’ve been inside nursing homes before. Yes, they’re depressing. Yes, they sometimes abuse the residents. But nobody was going to abuse me, and I was anxious to get started on a focused program of exercise so that I could get up out of bed and walk.

I had my wife pack my belongings, and I was ready to go by noon. But for some reason, it took a long time to arrange the transfer. For one thing, they had to schedule an ambulance pickup, because my wife had an appointment and was unavailable to drive me. “Ambulance?” I sputtered. “Why not call a cab? It’s only 5 exits away!” But for some reason, hospitals don’t work that way.

So I sat, fuming and dithering until 6 p.m., when the ambulance arrived with three attendants. One was a snotty and officious small man who liked to bark orders, another was an older guy who had found retirement too boring, and then there was the stoner.

The three of them lifted me on a sheet and slid me onto the gurney. While buckling me in, the older guy leaned across my body and set his elbow down exactly on my left-knee incision. He apologized profusely, declaring that he of all people should have known better.

They wheeled me out of the hospital into the blazing afternoon heat, and loaded me into the ambulance, which was like an oven inside. The stoner sat in the back with me, trying to connect me to a battery-powered device that measures pulse rate and blood oxygen level. The device kept shutting off, and the stoner would respond by smacking it with the heel of his hand until it lit up again. However, the numbers were screwy and unreliable, so after a few more smacks he stuck an oxygen hose in my nose “just in case.”

“I’m not an accident victim,” I told him. “My blood oxygen is fine.”

“Yeah, but I can’t confirm that with this thing,” he explained, waving the sporadically-blinking box. “Better safe than sorry.”

The ambulance, which has the exact same suspension system as that of a dump truck, bounced and rattled up the interstate, sending my knees into spasms of pain. I hadn't anticipated this problem, and hadn’t taken a pain pill since 9 a.m. By the time we arrived, I was writhing.

The attendants slid me out of the ambulance, lowered the wheels to the ground, and tilted the gurney so that my feet were lower than my head. It felt like I was floating six feet in the air. A small crowd of wheelchair-bound residents gaped in wonder and delight at my arrival, waving and smiling toothless smiles. I felt a strange euphoria, like a rock star, threading my way in a limo through crowds of groupies outside the stage entrance. It must have been all that extra oxygen.

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