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  • Carolyn Lackey

Stroke 9 (I Told You I was Sick S1:E5)

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

I held out hope that once the Clot-Buster successfully completed its work, I might be good to go back to our hotel room with its luxurious soaking tub and giant shower. A stroke, no matter how minor, causes trauma to the brain. Leaving the hospital that night was not an option.


Nurse Lily helped me into a hospital gown and gave Alan a plastic bag containing my bra and blouse. She removed my diamond necklace and suggested I remove my wedding rings. Alan would take them for safekeeping along with the bra and blouse. For some reason, I kept my white Chicos shorts on under my hospital gown. The things we do... The Phenergan I was given for nausea had kicked in, and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. My post-rotator-cuff-surgery-shoulder (left) was killing me because I had been lying flat on my back for too long. I craved a dark room with a soft, cozy bed where I could sleep on my right side with my left arm supported on a cloud of pillows and a TV tuned to Turner Classic Movies so that Gary Cooper or Bette Davis could lull me into a deep sleep.


Due to Covid restrictions, Alan wasn't allowed to accompany me to the Stroke ICU. He could only visit during visiting hours. The nurse explained how he could call and check on me during the night. He took a picture of my hospital wristband so that he could remember some "code name" that would get him through the HIPPA gates. Yes, I said code name. I'll get back to that.


With hugs and kisses and words of reassurance, he was led from the room by someone who was to show him how to get to the front door of the hospital where he could summon an Uber at 1:30 in the morning. He had ridden with me in the back of the ambulance. Neither of us had our bearings in this strange environment.


Sweet Lily told me that she would take me up to my room. I was more than ready for my own quiet haven and grateful that my dear nurse would be taking me there. Lily was rather petite. Without batting an eye, she single-handedly commandeered the ER bed and began rolling down one hall through double doors to another hall with yet more double doors. The second set of doors did not automatically open with the push of a button. Lily had to go through the door first so that she could pull my bed through to the next hall. She struggled to pull my chariot through the door that was a bit too narrow for her cargo while holding the door open with her left foot. There was a lot of pulling and hopping and pulling and hopping. I watched as part of the rubber "bumper" on the left side of the bed was shaved off like carrot peel.


We ended up going through another too narrow door that brought us into a short hallway with a bank of elevators. Lily pushed the button and one of the doors immediately opened. She then gave the bed a big push to heave-ho it over the elevator threshold. It took a minute for the doors to slowly creak to a close. Then, nothing. Silence. Total stillness.


"I must have forgotten to push the button for the second floor," Lily chirped. I heard a click. "There we go! Now we're on our way!" she said. Again, nothing. Absolutely nothing. "Hmm. I must not have pushed it hard enough. I'll try again." Click. Click. Click. And, nothing. Just stillness and silence. I was beginning to feel like a miserably uncomfortable caged animal with a full bladder.


Then, with no warning. THUNK! THUNK! THUNK! [pause] THUNK! THUNK! THUNK! The THUNKS were loud and hollow like blows to a bass drum. My eyes opened wide as my brain tried to process the thunking. Then, Lily explained.


"Sometimes you have to jump up and down to get these older elevators going."


Jump. Up. And. Down. Older. Elevators.


With a moan and some squeaky whirring, Grandfather Otis stretched his cords and slowly spun his cogs. The elevator began its ascent to the second floor. "Here we go!" exclaimed Lily.


My Mind: Here we go? Seriously? I survived a stroke, and now I may plunge to my death in an old elevator?!


When the doors slid open on the second floor, relief rained down upon me. I would live to see another day despite my traumatized brain and the thunking. Lily once again gave a herculean push to bump me out of the elevator into the Stroke ICU. The hall was dimly lit. All of my ICU mates were bedded down for the night. We passed dark rooms lit with the dim glow of soundless TV shows. As we skimmed along, something caught my eye. Above each patient's door there was a room number and the word "STROKE". We passed "STROKE 5", "STROKE 6", "STROKE 7", "STROKE 8".


I was struggling to keep my eyes open, my shoulder was killing me and my legs were crossed so that I might make it to the bathroom gracefully. But the redundancy. I couldn't understand the redundancy. I imagined some hospital staff person slaving over a Cricut cutting machine feeding it sheets of black vinyl that would be sliced into row after row of the word STROKE. With that whirling around in my head, Lily slid my bed into STROKE 9. Ugh. Grim reality once again set in. I had had a stroke. I had joined the club. I was STROKE 9.


STROKE 9 was about the size of Harry Potter's cupboard under the stairs. The room next door looked a bit larger. My room was at the end of a "cul de sac" in the unit. Apparently, the architects decided that they could squeeze in one more tiny space for patient care. Try arranging a hospital bed (set at an angle), a tray table, a couple of IV polls, and two uncomfortable chairs under the Dursley's stairs. You'll need a magic wand for sure.


The tiny bathroom was reminiscent of an antiquated motel bathroom on Route 66. It was not handicapped accessible. There was a Walmart shower chair nestled in the tub/shower combo. That's right, folks. In order to take a shower the next morning, I had to hoist my discombobulated right leg up and over the side of the tub, maneuver myself around in the small space toward the front of the shower chair, and plop down just so without falling willy-nilly onto the bathroom floor that was not large enough to accommodate the width and length of a human body.

I did all of this with the help of my nurse. It was no small feat. Once I was settled on the chair, I totally relaxed my body in anticipation of the warm water that would soon be streaming down onto my tired, sticky body. First, the nurse turned the tap to start the flow of the tub faucet. The water ran red with rust for a few seconds. "Oh, dear!" she said, "These old pipes!" When she tried to pull the nob for the shower, it wouldn't budge.


"Let me go get a technician right quick!" she said turning towards the door. Technician? "Um. Could I have a couple of towels to cover up with before this person comes to our rescue?" I asked. I imagined a burly plumber squeezing into the tight space with us. "Of course!" she said handing me two towels.


She came back within minutes with another nurse. Technician? "You've to get a good grip on it and pull really hard," Technician Nurse advised, "Even better - use a pair of pliers." Pliers? My nurse was supposed to have pliers in her scrubs pocket?


The shower water began to reluctantly flow in russet rivulets. As they adjusted the temperature and the water pressure, the stream turned clear and warm. At last I was able to rinse the sticky, salty caked-on Houston sweat from my exhausted frame. Things were beginning to look up.


Turns out the fun was just beginning. Next up: The F word and my hospital code name. There's one particular F word that might slip from your lips if you call "room service" for breakfast without your code name. Your real name won't get you so much as a crusty scrambled egg or a piece of cold, dry toast. You will question your own existence on the planet. Rod Serling will enter the room and raise one bushy black eyebrow. Stroke 9 will become...the Twilight Zone.



PS. The Stroke ICU will be transferred to a newly remodeled floor in September. Or, so I heard. They need a couple of weeks to print out all those letters for each door - S T R O K E multiplied by about 25.


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