The week I spent on the fifth floor – the rehab area – I remember clearly. The days weren’t bad, with Barb again visiting me from late morning till early evening, and bringing me in real food for lunch. Every day had me receiving a mildly demanding schedule, with O.T. (Occupational Therapy) and P.T. (Physical Therapy) sessions every morning and afternoon.
P.T. concentrates on the waist down, getting you walking again, building your strength up, utilizing such things as parallel bars, stationary bikes and a little flight of stairs. The P.T. trainers tended to be young, several of them working on their grad degrees. The one in charge was an attractive blonde named Tessa who had a deadpan sense of humor that Buster Keaton might have envied (not that Tessa would have any idea who Buster Keaton was). She took voluminous notes on her laptop while her grad school charges worked with me, and I accused her of moonlighting on a blog, which I speculated was called “Fit to Fit,” concentrating on fashion tips for the gym.
Another young woman, one of the grad students (whose name I unfortunately don’t recall), attempted to teach me how to get into and out of bed, without disturbing my chest incision (a big concern at the hospital). She demonstrated easily, using her abs since you’re not allowed to push up on your hands. I asked her how old she was, and she said, “Twenty-two.” Then I asked her how much she weighed, and she said, “One-hundred twenty.” I said last year I’d eaten 120 pounds of doughnuts.
The O.T. trainers who I worked with were all women, of various ages. The youngest, in her early twenties, had never heard of Bela Lugosi. I don’t remember how that came up, but she also had never heard of Boris Karloff. Nor Vincent Price. A somewhat older young woman was passing by, and I asked her about Lugosi and Karloff, and she’d never heard of them either. She did know Vincent Price, and explained to the younger woman that he was “the guy at the end of ‘Thriller.’”
O.T. concentrated on my hand, putting me to work with a Silly Putty-like substance and having me insert tiny pegs into slots. Early on we discovered I had lost my signature and could not use a computer keyboard. But we stayed at it.
One of the things various O.T. females did was guide me through my morning shower. This embarrassed me for about ten seconds. I looked like forty miles of bad road and humiliation was a way of life by now. The point was to demonstrate that I could do my own showering and such without help, or anyway much help. I did this pretty well, despite my dislike of showers (also, I had to sit on a bench in there). My funky right hand had me using my left for shaving, at first, but shortly I began forcing myself to use the right for that (electric razor, not straight razor!) and started brushing my teeth with my right hand as well. A big part of getting my hand back (I’m at about 80% now) has been forcing the right hand to do its work, as with eating utensils.
The bathroom had an oddity that I still can’t figure. The sink was narrow and long, putting way too much distance between your face and the mirror, making shaving very tricky indeed. I described this to one O.T. female as being like watching your neighbor across a courtyard shave out the window.
Another oddity, not in the bathroom, was the reclining chair in which a patient spent a lot of time, since the bed was so uncomfortable. The lean-back lever was incredibly hard to utilize – particularly for somebody who was not supposed to strain his chest incision. I think the guy who bought the sinks also bought the chairs. Musta got a deal.
Between the physical therapy sessions and my lovely wife’s presence, the days weren’t bad at all. Seeing Barb come in the door always lit up my world. But oh those nights, those endless, endlessly interrupted nights.
One of the worst began when my heart surgeon stopped by to ask about, well, my regularity since the surgery. It was a week since then and there hadn’t been any. He said cheerfully, “Well, we’ll hit it from both ends.” I will allow your imagination to help you interpret that, as well as spare you the discomfort and embarrassment that made that particular night the longest of all. But God bless the nurses who saw me through it.
The next day I was so weak and dehydrated that I couldn’t leave my room. The O.T. and P.T. people came to me and we soldiered on.
The last straw that led to Barb and me insisting on a release came on an even longer night. I was alternating short bouts of sleep with reading books and watching DVDs, and a nurse suggested that I take a sleeping pill.
A sleeping pill called Ambien.
Let me do a quick sidebar here, having to do with a gift my son gave me for Christmas, one of the best presents I ever received – a Blu-ray box from Japan of the complete COLUMBO in a cigar box. Fantastic! Barb and I, in the weeks preceding my surgery, watched a COLUMBO episode each evening.
Thus it was that during my hospital stay I dreamed my own brand-new COLUMBO episodes almost every night. Sometimes I was Columbo, sometimes I was the killer, other times I just watched. The most memorable episode was about identical twins who’d both had heart surgery and were sharing a room in the hospital. One brother sneaked out to kill somebody, and Columbo caught him because the two urine jugs in the room had both been filled by one brother.
Nate told me he doubted that would play very well on TV.
But you get the idea of the nature of my dreams in that place. Under the first-time influence of Ambien, I dreamed not of Columbo but of Miss Marple and her two talented nephews. Remember those great Christie characters? Me either. But they got themselves caught up in a gauzy European horror film right out of Dario Argento, with a serial killer slaughtering everybody left and right. I was suddenly in the midst of it all, trying to move through one sheer curtain after another while the killer pursued me.
Now understand that I was not allowed to get out of bed without assistance. That I was essentially in the process of learning to walk again. That I was required to ring for help to use the bathroom. Nonetheless, I apparently ran out into the hall, shouting, “Murder! He’s killing everyone! Murder! Save me!” I don’t think I fell down – I certainly had no signs of that, after – but I remember vividly being on the floor while a nurse bent down before me like she was giving a water bowl to her dog.
“Do you know where you are?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “But I think I’m in Max Allan Collins’ room.”
Time to go home.
NEXT WEEK: HOME AGAIN HOME AGAIN
Check out the Wikipedia page for the QUARRY TV series.
And the official QUARRY series web site.