The Little Things
THE LITTLE THINGS
Amy D. Montague, Ph.D.
Chapter 1 Fixed
I tend to worry when life is going too well. Back about six months ago I loved my psychology practice which I had been able to maintain successfully for close to twenty years in the same office building landscaped with waterfalls, all types of trees, and flower gardens. Best of all I loved conducting psychotherapy, and I loved my patients. Home was a beach sanctuary located on the beachside of a small one-bedroom condo complex where I lived with my husband of thirty-one years, Warren. We still were very much in love. The first thing seen when one walked in was the 180-degree view of the expansive ocean. We both enjoyed sunsets and watching surfers and ocean breezes from the generously large balcony overlooking the ocean.
I had gorgeous heels to match my designer suits, pants, and dresses. I loved dressing up to go to work. I was told by a saleswoman in Nordstrom’s that at age sixty-seven I had the body of a twenty-year-old. I had been working out for forty years, six days a week for three hours a day. I burned six hundred calories a day. I exercised my face and neck. Half of my sixty-seven years were spent overweight. I had achieved the small body I’d always wanted. And I was extremely strong.
One year earlier we had purchased a large fully-equipped home in the mountains called a cabin but it was more like a house with two levels, a good buy which we turned into an Airbnb. The business went well. It was located at the top of the mountain or what felt like the top. Driving up the mountain was invigorating as the brisk fresh mountain air became cooler with the smell of pine driving up a one-lane road with views around many twists in the road of more mountains- scenic views. The upper level of the house was more like an older rustic, charming Winter cabin with a deck.
Standing out on the deck I felt like I was in the middle of tall pines filled with a harmony of bird music. Watching squirrels, blue jays and the sunset. The sunrise’s, golden light with the sun streaming through the trees could be viewed from the kitchen window. The cabin slept, twelve people. It was a bit odd, furnished with three pull-out double beds which pulled out and back into a storage closet complete with games, books, sheets, and blankets for the three double beds. There was also a master bedroom with a view in which we felt like we were sleeping in the tall pines. The old, mahogany beautiful queen-size bed, I dressed up with romantic Ethan Allen sheets, coverlet, blankets and matching pillows of varying sizes straight out of their catalog. The bottom level was equipped with a small kitchen, an entertainment center and a couch that unfolded into a king-size bed. As well as a computer desk, there was also a queen-size bed in what became the study.
One of my few worries was getting older. My neck revealed my true age with skin like a turkey and various stretch marks from years of dieting and going up and down the scale. I shared a three-office suite with my two best girlfriends both whom I socialized and worked with and., everything was running smoothly. They told me about a doctor nearby who injected Botox and other fillers resulting in a liquid facelift. My face has improved but not my neck. I had tried facial exercises for my face and neck. The exercises helped slightly. This doctor was affiliated with the best and most popular surgeon in the business. His office was located in the prestigious Newport Beach. My first consultation with him cost two hundred dollars which could not be applied toward the facelift. I waited for hours for this first appointment.
I wasn’t aware at the time, but the preparation for the face-lift surgery, which started weeks in advance, was thickening my blood for surgery purposes. The cost included spending the first night post-surgery in a nearby fancy hotel with a nurse he provided for my recovery since my doctor’s work included the neck which required tying tendons together. The surgery went perfectly. My nurse and I and Warren had a great night ordering room service and watching LaLaLand. My nurse remarked several times how well I was doing.
Early the following morning she wheel-chaired me back to the outpatient surgery room and the surgeon and nurses conducted post-operative care. I was instructed to breathe into a tube, but I couldn’t get the balls in the tube to rise as instructed. It surprised me and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Being very claustrophobic and feeling tightness in my neck, I experienced my first panic attack. He said not to worry that I was recovering well, and that panic was a common reaction. With this reassurance, Warren and I drove up to what we now named Sky Cabin. We spent a relaxing day and retired for that next evening in the master bedroom. Happy as the jaybirds outside our window, we fell asleep.
I awoke in the middle of a stroke. I glimpsed enough to remember that we were spending the night at the cabin. The next awareness was that I was on the floor, Warren was trying to hold me up while frantically trying to wake me up. The last detail I remember from that night or early morning was Warren’s voice fearfully pleading with me to wake up and I could not respond in any way. Then I passed out. I knew something was seriously wrong. I succumbed to the only comfort I had to hold on to, that Warren would take good care of me no matter what it was. His mother had been a brilliant nurse. He knew much more than I did about medical emergencies.
My next conscious state was becoming aware of my strange hospital surroundings, bright lights overhead. My back was aching in a way I never experienced before. Then I became aware of the hard slab of wood that I was lying on. Consciousness was returning. Etched in my memory are the bright red stripes painted on the side of the gurney corresponding to the pain coursing along my lower back. I wanted to get off that miserable thing but I couldn’t move. With no choice, I laid back down. I became aware of hushed conversations around me. Everything was foggy and I felt ill at ease in this large very public emergency room. I am a very shy person. Then I lapsed back into delirium awaking to a conversation suddenly about me. ‘’ Mr. Montague your wife has just had a massive stroke to her right brain, caused by a blockage of cholesterol, which had been building up, due to a genetic glitch in her right carotid artery, a piece of which broke off and that artery remains 90 percent occulted requiring surgery to remove it. ’‘ His words repeated in my head stinging like a bullet piercing into my heart. Later Warren told me I tried talking and the words came out like gibberish which made no sense.
My next memory was of feeling angry at the hospital which utilized this gurney that was causing me so much unnecessary pain. I have a lot of anger issues that I’ll get into later.
I awoke to the faces of my LBS [life before stroke] bringing my life back into focus. The faces of my two beloved boys. Jaime 29 and Christopher 27, and my brother, George with whom just recently I had developed a healthy relationship for the first time. My first cousin, Glenn. also, a newly-discovered relationship. My two best friends Carolyn and Diana. The three of us shared a three-office suite. Carolyn was licensed as was I. We were enjoying our individual psychology practices. Diana was Carolyn’s friend and became my friend. Both Carolyn and I were supervising Diana who was in the process of satisfying her intern hours for licensure. We were all getting along and doing well. Warren, of course, was by my side always. Seeing all their faces was like a mass of warm love passing through my being.
This was the first moment I realized I could love deeply and I started to appreciate myself and my life and even my body that I had always taken for granted. I was still paralyzed and lay there in my hospital bed like a dead slab of meat which in my mind created a huge separation for me from particularly the business side of my life. I wouldn’t be able to work like this. Their faces were creased with concern for me and possibly with relief that I had woken up at all and survived. In retrospect, I imagine they were concerned about my mind. I lucked out in this regard as the stroke landed on my right side, and I am the right-handed and predominantly right brain. Initially, I couldn’t draw a clock and there was negligence on my left side, meaning that I wasn’t as aware of my left side surroundings. other than this my cognitive left-brain remained pretty much unaffected as well as my speech. The right brain is the more creative as opposed to the left brain which the thinking brain. The right brain controls the left side of the body so basically, the injury to the right side caused the paralysis of the left side of my body.
Losing my body was the hardest blow to accept, the most bitter of all pills to come. Growing up with low self-esteem. The only thing I thought I had going for me was my athleticism. I ran the fastest, jumped the highest and the farthest. I was more coordinated than anyone else in my third-grade class. When it came time to form teams, the kids fought and screamed for me, Amy Rosenfeld, to be on their team.
There was no controlling my thoughts and emotions. Memories flashed from the back into my past. Past and present clashed together. On one occasion it was a memory of my brother and me after we had squabbled. From out of nowhere one of my earliest and darkest memories suddenly flashed into the present following an emotional exchange between my brother and me.
It was 6 pm in the evening in our small apartment. My dad walked in from work and sat down at the head of the dinner table. He appeared angry at my mom and me. Even then at my young age of seven, (my brother was two). I could sense the tension rising within my dad as he stood up and suddenly whipped the tablecloth off the table and every plate, food, and glasses crashed to the floor. Suddenly he took the only thing remaining on the table and violently pitched my baby brother’s glass bottle of milk into the wall which shattered into dozens of glass fragments that landed on the rug. I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair wanting to run to my room but I was too afraid. I wanted him to go away. I knew that at 7 pm he would descend the stairs to the basement where he spent hours as an amateur ham-radio operator and then I could relax. Following that day on, I would begin to shudder inside and suffer from anxiety at ten minutes before 6 pm every day.
I thought back to my very first night in the hospital room, bedtime was approaching and a rusty and yellowish glow was settling on my bed, the walls of the room, and covering towels, a bulletin board on which were scribbled names of nurse, nurse assistant, and various doctors, some of whom I never met. There were also red notices announcing that I was a fall risk. I lay on my back in the bed looking up at the ceiling I could no longer sleep on my stomach the way I preferred. I was trying to make sense of what had happened to me. I was waiting for the nurse to bring me my evening medications and I was staring at the ceiling where a very small black speck moved along the trim. I stared intently at this tiny speck for a long time to decide if it was alive and moving. This small action reminded me that I was still alive with life. The feeling filled me with a thin inner emotional lining of joy and peace. I’ve had this sensation before while camping or hiking up a mountain to glimpse the expansive view. An entirely new appreciation awakened inside for the wonderful blessings I had including my sons, family, and Warren, who may have saved my life. I wanted to get better for them.
It was 9 pm and the vampires from the lab suddenly arrived at my bedside painfully piercing my upper right arm their long syringes which cost the hospital less money than the smaller and less painful butterfly needles. The nurse next entered my room following her light knocking on the door to take my blood pressure and provide my many pills including antibiotics which had to be taken every eight hours. I had contracted a dangerous bacterial infection in the hospital. I had never been to the hospital before in my life that I remembered except when I had my tonsils removed at the tender age of four. The night nurse had filled the water pitcher too full of ice water which spilled on me with a cruel unexpected cold wetness. Without even a sorry she bid me goodnight. ‘‘Good night to you to’’, I obediently replied. They were all finally gone and with relief, I fell asleep only to be awakened by another nurse at 6 am to give me my antibiotics for the Cdip bacterial infection I contracted from a patient in the adjoining room when I was placed into the intensive-care unit. Every day I awoke with back pain, either from the gurney or from the stroke and my neck still tight from the facelift. Both sides of my face were framed with green stitches. My face was still numb. The face-lift surgeon warned me to expect this numbness. So this was the only normal numbness in my whole body.
Then I thought back again to the first night in the emergency room, which was large and filled with patients in dormitory fashion. I was suffering from all kinds of misery including psychological pain beating myself up with the blame. My thoughts went as follows.;’ How could I be so vain as to undergo a facelift at age 67 which I really could not afford? As well I was a pussy Jew who obediently followed the orders of the Germans to their death camps. Had they all rebelled, their uprising would have outnumbered the Germans. Then a voice spoke out of the darkness of the large room, it had to be a nurse, a nurse assistant or another patient responding to my despair stating emphatically that ‘ At least the Jews were good and kind people.’ I felt much better after what I referred to as my psychotherapy session. That is one of the tools of therapy saying the right thing at the right time. This comment shattered and interrupted my negativity about myself, which helped me to feel better.
The next morning, I awoke to burning hemorrhoidal pain that was intolerable. The nightmare of the bedpans was that I would push the nurse button when I needed assistance and it would take over twenty minutes until she came. Part of the reason for my pain was not being able to relax enough to have a bowel movement except if warren was there, this was one of the few occasions he left for the day to do errands. So he left only because my son, Christopher was taking his place for the day. I was truly suffering in excruciating pain by the end of the day Chris told me that he couldn’t stand to see my face in so much pain. At one point after I phoned the nurse and couldn’t wait, I soiled myself and the bedsheets. When she showed up she yelled accusingly at me, suggesting that it was all my fault because she didn’t believe that I called when I had.
The next time I had to go and the bedpan had slipped out of my reach, desperately reaching for it, I slid out of bed and the nurses, technicians, orderlies screaming out my name and people came running from all directions shouting that I fell. They placed pillows under my head. There must have been a doctor present to order the cat scan. Christopher wore a mortified expression like he didn’t know what to do. They asked if I’d hit my head. I told them ‘no’ but they took me for a cat scan anyway. I was transported onto a gurney and rolled into a corridor with windows on both sides, one must have been open as I smelled the fresh air and glimpsed trees and flowers. I later asked Christopher for his version of the day and how he had felt. He related that he’d felt invisible and that he’d felt helpless. He wanted to leave but remained with me until Warren returned late that night.
There was no entertainment except Warren’s hooking the television with the internet. I listened to music which Chris said was good for my recovery. We also watched a lot of comedy. A few doctors came at night. They would check with me about how my body was recovering or not and I got the impression that my recovery could take a long time.
Once a neurologist came and explained that the occlusion in my right artery was not 90 percent blocked but 95 percent. He assured me that my brain was still getting blood from the left side and the time I had to worry wasn’t if it ever became 100 percent blocked. He also discussed the type of surgery required. He said that with this percentage of blockage that during the surgery that a piece of the cholesterol could break off and cause another stroke.
In my mind, I heard that II could die. But this hospital would not do this kind of surgery. I didn’t know what to think or do. The truth was that I no longer had any control over what happened in my life. As long as I remained in the hospital I couldn’t take aspirin without a doctor’s prescription. I was also informed by another doctor that the hospital would not remove my stitches. They didn’t want to interfere with another doctor’s work. Without any control over in my life, I felt hopeless and fell into a depression.
I lost track of the days I stayed in bed all day. I started taking Prozac which helped my mood a lot. Another doctor came and prescribed Prozac and informed me that this was the only antidepressant that helped a stroke patient’s brain recovery.
Then came waiting to be discharged from the hospital. Each day I was told that I would be discharged the following day and the next day would arrive and again I was told that it would be the next day. This went on for a week. It felt to me like I was never getting out of there. Thankfully my cousin and my brother stayed at the hospital with me. I received visits from Carolyn and Diana. This cheered me up. My brother helped me locate the next hospital which importantly had to be appropriate for me. This hospital talked about placing me next to a nursing home. ‘Not appropriate’, he yelled at the social worker.
George was well informed about this since he had helped my father with his stroke years earlier in San Francisco where they both resided together. George in his house in the woods of Marin County and my father in his nursing home. Probably the way my brother helped my father was by continually finding new nursing homes due to, the fact that my dad constantly was being asked to leave because he was mean to everyone and ill-spirited. He must have been one of those patients who complained all the time. So now my brother over helped me by pointing out my left-side negligence and all the items I hadn’t noticed on my left side. He added to my worries. His overcompensation to help others was his mode of feeling more adequate about himself. My dad had left both of us with his inadequacy complex passed down from his father, an immigrant finding refuge in New York as a Jew during World War Two.
Before I left that hospital my primary doctor who had been my primary doctor for my entire stay and I just learned this the day before my discharge. And like my narcissistic father he lacked true empathy. My father suffered from a profound inadequately complex passed to him from his father. The doctor stated that my brother was correct, I required an intense acute rehabilitation hospital because I was strong and had a positive attitude. And that next day turned out to be my last. This first hospital was basically keeping me alive and not focused on repairing my body. I later learned that an actor at age fifty died from the same stroke I had.
I overheard a nurse complaining about how this hospital only cared about making a profit. I was so happy to be leaving. Still traumatized, I fearfully waited hours for the ambulance to show up. Which it did and I was transported to an ambulance on a gurney that was like a bed with a comforting mattress with plenty of sheets, blankets, and pillows.
The ambulance was small and would have been claustrophobic had it not been furnished with a large back window which provided a great view of the outside world. Which in this case was the 405 Freeway and my beautiful black Nexus being driven by my brother and Warren was driving his truck while my cousin, Glenn was driving his Lexus as we all caravanned slowly reaching familiar turf as we arrived at the rehabilitation hospital.
The Rehabilitation Hospital
By the last night at the first hospital, I was worn out and obsessively worried that the ambulance wouldn’t show at all and I couldn’t sleep. When the ambulance delivered me to this new hospital everything felt lighter. Here was my opportunity to get my body back.
As I left the first hospital, I felt as if I’d been a prisoner of war interned at a camp where I was tortured every day and I was finally escaping.
I liked the new lobby”s gift store. And in the lobby, there was a piano on which one of the older patients played a lullaby whenever a baby was born. There was a maternity ward on my floor.
I was very anxious to get started with rehab., again I was obsessively worried that the therapy wouldn’t happen. The night preceding the start of my rehab, I selected the outfit I wanted to wear. I woke up early. I hated using a wheelchair. It was one of those things I had dreaded from a young age when I’d worked with older patients in convalescent homes. “That’s never going to be me,” I’d thought.
So I felt trapped confined to the chair. This was more hopeful internment but it was still a hospital. Where the other hospital might have saved my life and kept alive. There was no therapy and therefore no hope. The corridors smelled the same smell; a mix of disinfectant and illness, with filtered air which made my skin dry.
My room was located in the old wing of the hospital where there was loud construction going on. The room’s view was an old city foreshadowed in old buildings viewed through outdated wooden ornamentation covering all of the only windows in the room. I thought of my view at home overlooking the ocean. The last day before leaving for the new hospital my brother crushed my excitement by reminding me that this hospital was going to be the same, with the same problems.
The nurses all looked the same, acted the same. My room was oppressive, dark and stuffy. There was the whiteboard on which doctors and nurses scribbled their names. A dark-wooden cabinet set the tone of an old school room or dormitory room. The thermostat didn’t work and in the afternoons the room would be so hot and stuffy I wanted to die. Sometimes Warren and I would escape and go outside. We always told the nurse when we were leaving. We arrived on a Saturday when there was no therapy going on and the place felt dead. Sunday was bath day when a nurse would place me on what looked like a metal toilet, covered me with a sheet and wheeled me into the shower where I was washed to the sound of her operatic-like Sunday hymns. During the week, Warren helped the one-armed version of me give myself a sponge bathe.
When I returned to my room I was told by the manager of the therapists that I would be given my schedule with breakfast that it would be on the tray. The schedule was made up of fifty-minute therapy sessions of occupational and physical therapy and also speech therapy. Then the boredom sank in and I was still infected with the cdip bacteria and there was a stack of the yellow mosquito-like netting robes that anyone who’d entered and left my room had to wear including me. They were bulky and hot and this added to all my misery. I was given antibiotics around the clock, most bothersome was when the nurse woke me at five or six in the morning for antibiotics. My guests hated wearing these robes also.
Warren packed our clothes from the suitcase and into the cabinet-like closet. A favorite blouse of mine disappeared. I have never seen it again and it’s just one of so many painful losses. Aside from the vigorous therapy, I think the best part of being there was that it marked the end of the bedpans. Warren and I developed a very efficient bathroom routine in which he would wheel me into the bathroom in which a nurse observed and rejoiced “good transfer”.
Things were getting better here. The truth was that both Warren and I were highly regarded by the hospital staff. Warren for his constant loving devotion toward me. He watched every therapy session and served as my prompter in practice between sessions. I was making good progress walking and in all my therapy sessions. Even the food was better than the first weekend included with dinner a whip-cream cake. Warren devised a way we could connect my tablet and the TV so we could watch movies and tv from the internet including music on Pandora which Christopher impressed upon me was healing for my brain especially if I sang along. This and our son’s visits were our only source of entertainment, that was until the prison breaks which I am getting to.
When Monday morning finally arrived I was so nervous I pooped in my pants I had to change my clothes twice. The nurse suggested that I wear diapers. I was horrified. One of the most important moments in my life was ruined. That morning I suffered from tight clothing, anxiety to get started and wanting it to be going perfectly and it already hadn’t. My workout clothes were so tight that they were probably the most difficult kind of clothing to wear in my condition. The Minnie straps which had looked so cute at 24 Hour Fitness were the most difficult kind of clothing to get into due to the tightness. I quickly had to undress and redress the nurse suggested that I wear diapers and so I set up in my bed with my diaper beneath my workout clothes at the breakfast tray.
Breakfast was tasteless scrambled eggs absent of my beloved butter, no toast The coffee was good as I watched the clock. I was scheduled for physical therapy at 8 am and then two more occupational therapy sessions, then lunch followed by three more sessions in the afternoon. At 8:10 my primary physical therapist, Lisa showed up. As she pushed me along the Corridor, she announced that she was my primary physical therapist. Finally, here I was in a gym back in my element. Lisa helped me start walking in the parallel bars right away which I took to naturally. It felt so good to stand up. Everything went better from that moment on.
My next session took place back in my room with Brenda, my speech therapist who forced me to complete memory games, organizational tasks, always stressing for me to slow down, take my time and look at the big picture. She forced me to attempt cognitive tasks, I know I’d shied away from my entire life feeling ill-equipped to handle them. I followed her instructions every day as she repeated “Slow down, look at the big picture, now change the order. I started each session by having me go over what I had done that day so far. For the cognitive tasks I would form order in my brain and then she would ask me to change the order resulting in my learning cognitive flexibility. Which I could’ve used to pass the state oral exam for psychology. It took me years to pass.
She would appear first thing every morning to write herself into my lunch break which angered me so much at the time, but now I am so grateful for her help. I also worked with Marco, a physical trainer who sometimes confused me when he contradicted Lisa’s instructions. I learned from both of them as my walking slowly improved. The occupational therapists utilized electrical stimulation and tapping my arm for me to learn to isolate the muscle that I was attempting to strengthen. During one session after the therapist massaged my left shoulder and arm and then instructed me to lift my left arm up to my mouth and hold it up there for seconds, I could feel the strength that still existed on my left side and it was exciting. This was the only time I was able to accomplish this lifting of my left arm. It never happened again. I was often reminded, that stroke patients take a long time to recover. It’s going to take time,’ so slow down and don’t get discouraged.’ which truly discouraged me. Slowing down was the hardest thing for me.
Patience was not my strong point at least not since raising my boys. One morning, early before my first therapy session. Warren and I ventured down to the hospital cafeteria on the first floor. The food was better in the cafeteria we discovered. On some mornings Warren would travel down to the cafeteria and bring me back an egg over medium and some toast with butter and even chocolate chip scones. He brightened my mornings.
Then Warren and I began our prison breaks, a name we derived from a current TV show. Warren would wheel me out of the hospital lobby and into the fresh air and sunshine. We first sat out in the parking area just outside the lobby and we’d park ourselves at one of their tables in the sun and enjoyed cappuccinos and lattes. When it became unavailable and started closing often we began our travels outside the hospital grounds. These were the prison breaks.
In each therapy session, I exerted such effort that I never ever even imagined I had and by the end of the day or even by lunchtime I was drained of all energy, completely spent.
We call this prison breaks because we were not allowed to leave the hospital grounds called the campus so it was fun to feel like we were breaking the rules. Our first discovery was a small bagel joint which became our Sunday brunches with bagels that were fresh and delicious. I had no idea such a small hole in the wall spot could provide so much joy.
As Warren pushed me along the neighborhood streets we couldn’t miss the Crazy Creole restaurant where together with my cousin, Glenn. The three of us continued our traditional Sunday dinners together. Glenn maintained the tradition and he really loved the crazy Creole. Glenn loved the food and maintained our Sunday night tradition even though I was in the hospital. There was an alligator listed on the menu and I kept hearing a loud banging sound in the back of the kitchen which created visions in my mind of a large black alligator fighting and jumping back there. It was a good time for all of us. Our greatest discovery was the Thai spoon café which was located quite a distance away but we couldn’t resist Thai food. The entry to the outside area was lined with plastic flowers and dozens of flies, another hole in the wall we entered through a broken wooden gate and we sat on painfully- small chairs until the Thai server delivered very hot soup with lemongrass. At my first sip of the soup, my memory flashed back to my first travel experiences to Southeast Asia in June 1976 with my first husband and Larry, his new best friend. Larry ran away from home at the age of 9 which included a lot of Europe. He was a traveler in his heart. Larry talked us into making this trip to the far east. Three months in Indonesia in Sumatra, Java, and Bali.
Larry was from New York and he reminded me of a young woody Allen. Our first stop was in Japan where Larry remembered every historic event and the name of every emperor who ever presided over the country. We spent three months in Indonesia, three weeks in Japan. I returned to India three times, The first time I went alone. Larry, I and my first husband spent seven months in East Africa. My memory flashed back to our travels in Thailand. This particular day we had been traveling all day down the coast from Bangkok. We were reaching the end of the long day’s journey when we stopped at a straw-covered hut. We were all hot, sweaty, and exhausted and found relief and this same soup decompressed and soothed our bodies. My memory skips to our first landing at the Bangkok airport. As we walked through our first real taste of Asia in this very, basic airport. With plywood counters void of any hint of the modern world. There was no air conditioning, the humidity with its dampness swallowed us. We were mesmerized by hundreds of Thai women moving gracefully, glittering in silk garments adorned in gold-like jewelry and gold makeup. Many of their faces were absolutely beautiful with high cheekbones appearing like goddesses out of some fairytale. The antiquated loudspeaker announced flights coming and going in a very, foreign tongue in this most exotic of all lands. We quickly grabbed our backpacks from the carrousel, our backpacks stood out from straw baskets and cardboard boxes.
Once outside the airport, we were welcomed by suffocating humidity. We arrived and landed at Bangkok airport. As we walked through this very basic primitive Third World airport void of anything any hint of modern we passed counters made of plywood there was no air-conditioning. Despite that cocoon of humid clamminess and stuffy air, the Thai women appeared like fine goddesses out of a fairytale. The inaudible loudspeaker announcing flights arriving and departing in this fine exotic land was our first introduction to passing through a Third World airport. We quickly picked up our backpack easily identified in the carousel from the everyday suitcases and cardboard boxes and straw baskets.
Once outside the airport, we were instantly smothered in the clammy suffocating humidity and we were bombarded with cab drivers all grabbing st us to follow them and too tired to resist listening to all this broken English to come to their hotel, a good hotel, give you a good price until we finally caved into the most aggressive who quickly pulled us to his cab where he threw our backpacks in the trunk. It was air-conditioned and as we decompressed and refreshed in the delicious cold air furnished with our travel guide book we directed the cab driver through thick pockets of stopped cars. I’ve never seen traffic like this before anywhere. We made our way through big pockets of a mass of stopped cars stuck in a chaotic mess of older cars heading in different directions with no organization. Cars clouded in a layer of dark gaseous fumes at eye level, growing darker like a swarm of locusts I’ve never experienced feeling claustrophobic in traffic in which we were stopped for six hours, like prisoners in the cab helpless to escape.
Gordon was allergic to smoke and dust and he began sneezing and coughing uncontrollably his eyes watering as we were stopped in traffic. We felt like it was days later when we finally reached our hotel, a cheap dollar- a- night hotel. We were basically young students; I was 26, Gordon was 27 and we were traveling with Larry, 25, Gordon’s new best friend he met while working at a summer job at LAX as a security guard.
We finally reached our hotel late that night. The texture of the hotel both inside and out was colorless like the airport and run down. Our large empty room unconditioned and sparsely furnished with two single beds we soon discovered were covered with mildew sheets and blankets. I was already discovering that every Asian room was featured with old armoires. Ours was the basic one built with cheap, thin wood with a mirror pasted to the front. The more expensive hotels showcased finely polished mahogany with fancy mirrors and fancy gold accents. In our room, there was one small light bulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling. There were two single beds, a broken chair tiny table with a radio. The room was humid and hot with no fan. When we turned on the radio and exotic music floated out, I finally grasped the fact that we were in Thailand.
We discovered a large pool in the back of the hotel with coconut palms surrounding it and adorned with tropical flowers, competing with the wonderful smells of Thai food waffling out of the coffee shop on the ground level. We ventured outside the hotel into the stifling hot air mass and we started walking up and down the sidewalks in the neighborhood around the hotel. The sidewalks abruptly ended in a short bit and as we walked up and down all the time, I felt like we were ducks bobbing up and down like targets in a rifle range.
There was drink stands on almost every corner thankfully on the day we toured one of the main attractions; the Imperial Palace, a large compound composed of one large palace surrounded by smaller temples all covered with orange shingled roofs with a green trim shimmering in the sunlight. After removing our shoes with respect, we entered the Imperial Palace, the inside walls were covered in a gold-leaf mural depicting scenes of the king propped up on a throne receiving gifts. Others showing the hunt with animals running in all directions to escape their cruel fate.
Outside the imperial palace, the other temple’s walls doors and even steps were encased in beautiful tiles of fine china completing this fairyland. Like a cartoon or mirage in the middle of clammy sticky air, here the mirage faded and I was back in my wheelchair being pushed back into the hospital lobby as Warren pushed me back into the room there sat Jamie’s handsome face reminding me of the value of life right here and now. Being back in the room felt a little lighter and softer and comforting with Jaimie there. It was around 7 pm and my favorite comic, Louie CPK’s routine was playing on YouTube. It was fun and I felt relaxed. I was becoming very aware of what I was feeling. On the right side of the brain sits the limbic system or the emotional brain. My stroke hit this including the amygdala (the rage center) and the basal ganglia (the center controlling balance).
After Jaimie left, he had to work the next day and I had my schedule to contend with, two doctors came by after he left, my primary and a neurologist. Both asked if I could move my left toes or fingers. The answer was always no, and I felt like I had failed the test. The neurologist explained that because of my occlusion being more than 50 or 60% it would require surgery to remove it which I was terrified of. And then he told us that the hospital wouldn’t do it at all. I felt frightened that I had to go on living with the knowledge that if I fell which I had already done a number of times I could die or have another stroke. I didn’t know how to live this way. He also informed me that I had to have an MRI the next day, and I am claustrophobic and was terrified.
The next day the MRI was scheduled first thing in the morning and the lab technician carried one end of a large sheet, while an orderly carried the other end with which they lifted me off of the bed and onto a metal gurney in mummy fashion. They immediately wheeled me into the elevator taking us down, down, down all the way to the bottom floor while I complained bitterly telling them both how terrified I was and of course, they said you’ll be alright – how did they know I thought they didn’t know me.
The nurse at the counter explained I would not be allowed sedation as the surgeon wanted a good clear picture. I was slowly rolled into the darkness of the tomb-like tube. The orderly at the last second told me not to move and handed me a panic button like the round base of an aspirator which I tightly clenched in my right good hand and held against my tummy. Once inside the tube I heard loud sounds of clashing metal against metal which I liked as these sounds were distracting. I heard Warren’s voice in my head repeat it’s only going to take 15 minutes then my own voice said this isn’t so bad I think I can actually do this. I felt a little excited and still scared as I began conducting my own relaxation therapy, relaxing my arms, legs and counting down from 10 to 1 slowly trying to relax more with each count.
Then I was gently being lifted in the warm Mexican waves of my last vacation and then totally relaxed I mentally returned to the tube and I started to panic feeling trapped inside the tube, thinking that it had been longer than 15 minutes and they weren’t wheeling me out. I squeezed the panic button and they quickly wheeled me out of the tube and into the open. The technician stated that I had done it and they got a good picture! I was so relieved and feeling triumphant I had faced a great fear and won. I felt like someone especially capable. I was floating in my victory and no one said a word as I was silently pushed back into the elevator.
A small Asian woman stepped into the elevator holding a beautiful bouquet of orchids. I told her how gorgeous the bouquet was and she handed me one flower. I took this as a reward for my valor. I felt happy and suddenly relaxed as I was rolled back into my room. My physical therapist, Lisa knocked gently and walked to my bedside and told me I had a physical therapy session in an hour. Vampires were instantly piercing my right arm with needles of different colored ink. I remembered from college about CAT scans providing contrast by inserting different colors of ink into the veins and with heat it improved the picture with contrast, but I didn’t know any more than this. Feeling confused but aware of my newly-discovered self-pride and respect I was again mummified back onto the same metal gurney and wheeled back into the elevator for a CAT scan.
Down we went again back to the same MRI tube and I panicked as they started to wheel me into it again. I had a strong impulse to grab onto the tube entrance. I didn’t understand how it worked. The technician calming assured me that it was open inside. So I collapsed into myself as I was wheeled through an opening into a dark, open room. As I passed through the opening to the tube I glimpsed swirling colored water rotating around the entry. It was over in a matter of seconds but this time I was angry back in my room. With my right arm still lined up with needles, Lisa returned me to my physical therapy session which I performed well and Carolyn was there waiting for me in the gym with news from work and she described how she and Diana were seeing my patients and that some of my patients would not be returning.
I thought to myself that I was hopelessly listening to the fact that I was losing my practice and my career. I don’t think she meant for me to feel this way but I did and I couldn’t complain about anything to her, feeling guilty because she was keeping the office going and they were using and rearranging my office. I felt trapped in the hospital with no control over anything in my life.
Again I felt depleted of hope for the future and fell into a deep depression. When I returned to my room my first sight was Christopher sitting and waiting for me. Suddenly, my hope and joy were back and I know that he saw my face light up the minute I saw him. It was good for both of us,
He stayed with me. I told Christopher about the MRI and the CAT scan and how disappointed I had been by Charlene who had no idea what I was going through. How could she? Waren could always cheer me up. You are still a psychologist he reminded me which my mind accepted and my sadness faded along with two Prozac pills. Chris took me in my wheelchair down to the lobby’s gift shop. Chris bought his favorite candy and I picked out a milk chocolate sweet caramel-filled Easter bunny It was the beginning of Easter I was feeling afraid of the elevator again. I could tell that Chris was pleased for successfully helping me. I’m sure that was the best chocolate bunny I ever tasted despite the slight paralysis on the left side of my mouth. I was convinced by my visitors that my face showed no sign of paralysis on the face and that my speech was good. I rejoiced in the small amount of health and functioning I still had. And then a very beautiful nurse whom I hadn’t seen before arrived at my bedside to finally remove the green stitches still visible on both sides of my face. Once I viewed my new face, a-twenty-years- younger-looking face. My mood was transfixed and I realized at that moment that I hadn’t felt such happiness in a very long time. I had not chosen to have a facelift to look younger, just better.
All the nurses, other patients and trainers, and even doctors told me how beautiful and pretty I was. Suddenly I had a new reason to live on. The first time in my life I felt really pretty. And I was going to be able to enjoy my new face for the rest of my life. I wasn’t even bothered by Brenda arriving during my lunch break in my room as I was enjoying talking with Carolyn. Carolyn didn’t echo a word about work this time.
Even Carolyn’s boyfriend showed up to visit with me that Easter Sunday. It was fun for him to admire me. It was a nice visit. We stayed in the park just outside the hospital lobby while he called his parents back east and talked about them. They didn’t stay long but it was enough. I think I bought another chocolate bunny after they left.
The days went by slowly after that. I lived from a visit to visit. I felt claustrophobic in the room plus the room became unbearably hot in the late afternoons. So if I was finished with rehab.for the day, Warren and I would slip out for our jailbreaks or just hang out in the cool lobby. And enjoy snacks and a diet coke from the gift store.
Wednesdays were the day of the team meeting. They were held in the conference room with the doctors, trainers, and nurses reviewing our progress and deciding who was going home when. I was there for six weeks and passed all my goals by my sixth week. The social worker walked from room to room telling us how we had fared for the week. Finally, I got the good news that I had five more days until I would be going home. I was so happy and excited and worried all at the same time. Worried that it wouldn’t happen. That’s how traumatized I still was. I called everyone I knew to tell them the good news. Diana was always the most excited and happy for me! It was complimenting to learn that all my trainers agreed that I was hardworking and strong. On the last day, they wanted me to have therapy but told me I didn’t have to so I opted out. That day I was angry and anxious.
We didn’t get to leave the hospital until 5 PM waiting for my wheelchair to be delivered. Why couldn’t they have ordered it for an earlier arrival time, I would get angry while Warren figured out the real reason that it had something to do with Medicare payments, We said our goodbyes and then made the final transfer from the wheelchair to my car which we had practiced with Lisa the day before. And we were off, I hated that city till the very end as we slowly forever after forever started to leave the last hospital behind us and I finally realized I was going home driving on my street turning into the driveway as we had hundreds of times before, it felt different for a moment. And then into my wheelchair and into the elevator, I was very afraid of and then still three stairs to go up before Warren lifted the wheelchair and rolled over the floor stairs to our floor. We had a lot of practice on our prison breaks outings. Home was awaiting our return. The entry to my favorite home of all times was perfect as we had left it. Beautiful with a lot of white furniture in the kitchen and it’s remodeled granite countertops, light maple cabinets and beautiful tiling and recessed ceiling only in the kitchen. The living room color against the front yard of water. Our front yard was the ocean. It had a gas fireplace surrounded with nice tiles with the glass for taking shelter protecting the shadow of the fireplace inside, It was furnished with a lot of very attractive Stickley oak, even a large beautiful wooden entertainment center. Browns and neutrals but this Stickley entertainment center was the most beautiful piece in the house.
Yes, I was home in my beautiful condo on the beach, with a scenic view of the Palos Verdes peninsula at the end of the Paradise. yet it was no longer paradise as my wheelchair immediately began marking up the perfectly colored walls and the place was so tiny. The tiny bathroom was not much larger than the size of an airplane. The place was the same, but I wasn’t. My life was not going to be the same, no matter how much I wanted it to be.