Something New (I Told You I Was Sick S:1 E7)
The question of when I would be released from the hospital was answered with "we'll see how you do." However, my stay in Stroke 9 was rather short-lived. On Monday, my stroke team declared me stable enough to be moved to another floor. This was exciting news. A move brought the bright prospect of a larger room with a shiny, modern bathroom. So, we waited. All day long. There was no open bed on my dream destination floor. When Alan left for the hotel at 8:00 that evening, he shrugged and said, "Looks like you'll be in this room another night."
Hospitals operate on a twenty-four hour clock. Tests and procedures can take place in the wee hours of the morning. My second CT scan took place around 1AM, the wee-est hour of Monday morning. So, when they say "Today we're going to repeat the CT scan," "today" means any time from 12:01AM until 11:59PM.
That said, I shouldn't have been surprised when my nurse rolled a wheelchair into my room just before midnight and told me that she was going to serve as my escort to a different floor. She was the efficient, brisk, no-nonsense type. Very nice and professional. Just expedient. Before I could say "what the fart?!" I was rolling down the hall holding in my lap my small carry-on bag and a tall kitchen trash bag full of miscellaneous items - my Sonicare toothbrush, deodorant, my favorite white Chicos shorts, etc - that she had tossed in it within thirty seconds. I am the check-all-the-drawers-the-closet-and-under-the-bed-three-times when checking out of a hotel kind of girl. This grab-and-go was unsettling to say the least.
The nurse and I spoke very little during our journey to the Promised Land. The elevator ride was happily uneventful. The new floor was quiet and seemed totally deserted. There were no nurses at the nurses' station and none in the hall. We skimmed unnoticed down to one of the last rooms at the end of the corridor. Nurse Expedia rolled me inside the door a few feet and plopped the contents of my lap - the carry-on and my plastic tall kitchen trash bag - onto the nightstand. Slowly, I stood up from my wheelchair and took a few tentative steps into the room.
"I wish you luck!" the nurse said. She then promised that she would send any overlooked personal items that may have rolled out of sight in Stroke 9. And, with that, she headed back to her post in the Stroke ICU. I expected that she would have grabbed a nurse and had a little transition pow-wow before her departure. "Sixty-four-year-old female. Her BP is such and such, she knows her code name by heart and can order meals by phone with no assistance..." I mean, I was coming from the land of being escorted to the bathroom every single time I even thought of peeing. Stroke patients are prime candidates for falling. I kept imagining a big tally board at the nurses' station that read, "1,563 Days with no Falls!" I sure didn't want to be the girl that took them down to zero just because I got too big for my britches.
Standing there with nary a soul holding my elbow to keep me balanced, I slowly surveyed the room. It was palatial. The bathroom beckoned with its ample square footage and walk-in shower with a built-in shower seat. The bed looked crisp and clean. The bottom sheet was pulled nice and taut over the black, "wipes clean" mattress, and a fresh top sheet was folded into a pleasing rectangle at the foot of the bed. In a chair just a few feet from the bed I spied a cozy blanket ready to be called into active duty.
I stood stock-still for a minute or two wondering about hospital etiquette. I knew full well that my Stroke 9 nurse would not have left me if she had the slightest inkling that I would be in danger. I was perfectly fine and mostly in control of all of my faculties. But, there I stood trying to decide what I should do next. Sit in a chair until my new nurse came to tuck me in? Unpack? Sit on the side of the bed dangling my feet waiting for someone to notice my presence? My first course of action was to go to the bathroom. All by myself.
That done, I figured that my new nurse might be caught up with a fellow patient desperate for relief of pain that ranked a nine on the pain scale or with changing the bedding for some poor stroke patient that had puked all over his bed. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and declared myself a "brave soldier." The least I could do was be helpful.
I carefully walked to the foot of the bed, picked up the top sheet and made ready to tuck myself in. As I look back, it occurs to me that I was not attached to an IV pole which made my movements easier and less complicated. As Alan always says, "that was something." "How was your day?" "Uneventful. The guy came and fixed the dishwasher." "That was something."
Once the bed was made, I turned back the covers, lowered myself down, and sat there for a moment in the dimly lit room. Then, I began to cry. Not an audible cry. Just slithering tears accompanied by discreet sniffling. Brain trauma will do that to a fella. Tears will flow when least expected. At that moment I was crying woe-is-me irrational tears. I was all alone in unfamiliar surroundings. I wondered if somehow I had slipped through the cracks because none of the nursing staff had observed my arrival like a diner in a restaurant with no waiter in sight. I wondered if someone had passed away in this very same bed a few hours earlier. I wondered if that departed soul was still circling over the bed wondering what the heck just happened and why the bed looked so tidy. I was so deeply lonesome for Alan. His presence calmed me.
I sobbed for a bit and then decided that what I needed most of all was sweet uninterrupted slumber. So I tucked myself in and turned on the TV. The first screen that always popped up was the hospital "homepage" with soothing scenes of nature and soft strains of light classical music. Slowly, slowly, slowly my body began to relax as I watched a deer and her fawns grazing in a meadow. I thought of my turtles back at home and made a mental note to tell the hospital "powers that be" to add footage of a turtle meticulously eating kernels off a corncob. Chomp. Chew. Chew. Chew. Chomp. Chew. Chew. Chew. Now that is relaxing. Soon, the deer and her fawns wandered into the woods, and I drifted off to sleep.
Just before the sleep got good, the overhead light flipped on and a cheerful, near boisterous nurse greeted me. "Hello! Welcome! My name is New Floor Nurse! I need to go over your meds and check your vitals!" At last. Human comfort. I think I'm going to like it here.
I was in my luxurious room for just over twelve hours. Just before lunch my even newer New Floor Nurse came in and announced that I was being released and that "transportation" had been summoned to escort me to the car. She told me that once Transportation Guy arrived she would remove my IV, and I would be on my merry way.
One doesn't really appreciate the effect that Covid has had on the workforce until one has waited for a transportation guy to arrive. The outside world continues to go about its business while the patient sits frozen in time. Minutes begin to group themselves into bundles of tens and twenties. Every footstep in the hall raises hope. Then, they fade away. After a long while, we heard footsteps accompanied by a dull rumble. My chariot was drawing nigh.
When I say chariot, I mean fancier than a run-of-the-mill wheelchair. This contraption resembled those mall rental strollers that look like firetrucks and eighteen-wheelers. Resembling a large gray pickup, the seat was in the front and the back had a large bin for carrying things like carry-on bags and tall kitchen trash bags (that now also contain the plastic pink hospital tub & pitcher set and unused hospital toiletries). It was the mullet of wheelchairs - business up front and party in the back.
Alan checked the drawers, the closet and under the bed despite the fact that I had never unpacked. We Lackeys wear belts and suspenders. My earthly belongings and I were loaded safely and securely (there was a seat belt) onto the truck, and off we ventured towards freedom.
As we rode in our rental car towards the hotel, I cried once again. Reality set in anew. I had had a stroke. I had survived having a blot clot in my brain and ended up with little visible damage. That stroke. I did it to myself. I had been a self-described sedentary, bread-baking, pasta-making, exercise-avoiding sixty-four-year-old female. Starting with The Tiger King, I treated myself to binge-watching parties of one. Many of my misdeeds I blamed on the isolation of the Covid lockdown. The epidemic became a convenient scapegoat.
I reached over and held Alan's hand. No matter what came next, his hand would be there for me. And that was all I needed to know at that moment there in that rental car. Alan will be by my side. Telling me to take my blood pressure twice a day and coaxing me to go for a walk. Teasing, I told him that if he was going to be nagging me about my health all the time, our marriage, as we once knew it, was over. Thank goodness, I have a man that cares enough to nag.
To the excellent staff of the Hermann Memorial Stroke Unit. While I tend to focus on the funny, know that I well remember the amazing care I received during a very scary episode in my life. In those moments, I didn't fully grasp the magnitude of your expertise. I was too busy trying to think of words that begin with the letter F and wondering who my next bathroom escort would be. It was in the retelling that I fully realized how blessed I was to be in your care. As my story continues to unfold on this blog, you will see that your prediction came to fruition. I'm almost back to my normal old self but with better health habits that would make you proud. God bless each and every one of you.